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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 3:24 pm | Partly Cloudy 61º


Isla Vista Foot Patrol’s New Leader an Experienced Hand in Policing the Community

On his third assignment in I.V., Lt. Rob Plastino knows what to expect at Halloween but sees a positive change among students

The Isla Vista Foot Patrol has a new officer in charge of the station, which has the task of policing the densely packed, largely student community on UC Santa Barbara's western edge.

And while he may be gearing up for the massive enforcement effort during Isla Vista's notorious Halloween street scene, he still has time to chat with students outside a local coffee shop.

Santa Barbara County sheriff's Lt. Rob Plastino took over the position in July, succeeding Lt. Ray Vuillemainroy, who is now overseeing the sheriff’s substation in Santa Maria.

Plastino was out and about last week to meet and greet students and community members outside the Starbucks on Embarcadero del Norte.

He's been with the Sheriff's Department for 15 years, and has worked in gang enforcement, with patrol units and the D.A.R.E. program, and as a sergeant in the Santa Ynez Valley's central station. This is his third assignment in Isla Vista; he was last there in 2004 after returning home from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Having observed Isla Vista over two decades, Plastino said one noticeable difference is an increased sense of social responsibility in students.

"Ten years ago, that didn't exist," he told Noozhawk. "Students here now are really asking 'what can I do to make the Isla Vista community a better place.' That's a paradigm shift."

Although there are still students in the community with a "what's in it for me" attitude, Plastino says they're the minority.

Isla Vista is a unique community packed not only with students, but also UCSB faculty, working families and others living nearby.

There are many different interests to balance, which Plastino called "daunting and humbling."

But the fact that there are so many active groups looking out for the community is one of its greatest assets, he said.

"I walked into a community where those groups, for the most part, are already in harmony with each other," he said, adding that law enforcement is just one part of the vibrant place.

Plastino encouraged community members to accompany deputies on a walk-along to see what they do on a regular basis.

"I would hope the Foot Patrol office is on the forefront of being accessible," he said.

The doors at the station at 6504 Trigo Road are open Monday through Friday, with about 25 sworn officers working there.

When asked what Plastino would tell the community as he begins his tenure, he encouraged students and others to know the station is there for them.

"I want them to know that Foot Patrol is there for their safety," he said. "Enjoy yourself and get a good education in a manner that is safe."

The deputies' job is not be "the iron fist of the law," Plastino said, but to provide the greatest protection for the largest group of people.

"If they're being arrested, sometimes they don't see that bigger picture," he said, adding that the deputies are very even-handed in their approach.

Many of Isla Vista's crimes are alcohol-related, from assaults to burglaries.

Plastino said working with organizations like the Associated Students has been key to the effort to raise security awareness among students and get them to lock their doors to prevent burglaries and other crimes.

He said the department recently arrested an individual suspected of going into parties held in Isla Vista and walking out unnoticed with laptop computers from the residences.

One can't talk about Isla Vista this time of year with mentioning the Halloween activities that have traditionally drawn thousands of people to the community.

Planning that Halloween enforcement falls squarely on Plastino's shoulders.

In the weeks leading up to Oct. 31, the department gradually increases staffing so that by the time Halloween arrives, more than 10 extra deputies are patrolling the streets, on foot and by bike. Law-enforcement agencies from throughout the region also assist.

Plastino said this year could be busier than last because Halloween falls on a Thursday, so the enforcement would be heavier throughout the weekend.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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