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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 2:32 am | Overcast 54º


Ron Fink: Halloween in Isla Vista: Memories of the Past

It’s Halloween again, a night where dressing up in strange clothing and begging for treats in the neighborhood is considered a tradition.

Isla Vista was once home to one of the “greatest Halloween parties” in the United States, as judged by a national magazine. But with that “honor” came a lot of serious problems.

IV is a densely populated community, largely populated by groups of students being charged exorbitant rents for a space to sleep, some in closets, along Del Playa, which seems to be the center of the party seen.

I once saw 23 empty beer kegs beside an apartment house perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, I had the privilege of serving as a reserve peace officer. As part of my duties, I was to assist the 150 officers assigned to keep the peace for three IV Halloweens in a row.

This was an interesting assignment to say the least. Picture 30,000 of America's youth, all in costumes, crowded onto the narrow streets of IV.

The majority were there just to have an enjoyable time, but there were the inevitable troublemakers in the crowd. Oh, and no one was offended by the creative costumes that mocked real-life characters.

One year I was assigned to a barricade; the county closed the streets of IV to vehicle traffic and the barricade served two purposes. One was to keep cars out, the other was to check for anything that could be used as a weapon.

I was surprised to see what these young people thought were appropriate accessories to their costumes; car bumpers, street signs, large pieces of lumber, swords, pipes and other items that could have been used to damage property or injure people.

All were confiscated, cataloged and tagged as evidence, and the owners were told they could pick up their property the next day; very few did.

The Isla Vista Market is on Embarcadero Del Mar which is one of those crowded streets. On one of those Halloween nights, six deputies were assigned to patrol a one block stretch of this street.

A group of revelers descended on the market to buy more beer and some munchies; they grew impatient as they waited for the haggard clerks to collect payment for their goods. So, they stripped the store of all its products and simply left.

The street was so crowded that deputies couldn’t even see the market, so they didn’t know what had happened until the dispatcher sent them to investigate following a theft/vandalism complaint by the store employees.

What they found was bare shelves, broken storefront windows, empty beer cans and snack wrappers all over the floor, and shaken clerks.

Santa Barbara County had a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol during these events and still does. In other words, all crimes observed by officers required an arrest.

During another year, the four-man team I was with was sent to a sector a couple of blocks from the foot patrol office.

Before we could reach our assigned sector, our team made six felony drug arrests in less than an hour. All were taken quietly to the booking area and then to jail.

We also poured out several gallons of alcohol as we wrote citations for “open containers.” This level of activity was normal during these events and 150 arrests a night was not uncommon.

Today it’s much different in IV. UCSB administrators and county officials following near riot conditions decided it was time to put an end to one of the “greatest Halloween parties” and the attendant mayhem that went with it.

Student groups were also concerned about the image that was being portrayed of their school. UCSB offers some serious, world-class education programs and that image and the status of the school was being put at risk.

People still have big parties in IV, but nowhere near the level of the late 1980s and early '90s. It appears this generation is a little more responsible than its predecessors.

Noozhawk recently reported that “law enforcement is hopeful the trend toward smaller crowds will continue this year.”
Quoting sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover: "We are hopeful that we won't have a large attendance, especially from people out of the area.

"We are prepared if there is a large crowd, but we are hoping that we will continue to see the trend ... and see students having a responsible time," she said.

There are still arrests because some folks just can’t behave properly in public. Again, from Noozhawk: “Last year, sheriff’s deputies made 12 arrests, issued 14 citations and had one report of an alcohol poisoning.”

Enjoy your Halloween parties, dress up in strange costumes and absorb all the sugar your system can handle, but behave like responsible adults.

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