Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 11:24 pm | Overcast 66º


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Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Candidates Discuss Sex Assaults, Drugs, Safety at Isla Vista Forum

Incumbent Bill Brown and challengers Lt. Brian Olmstead and Lt. Eddie Hsueh hit on issue important to campus community

3 candidates for Santa Barbara County sheriff. Click to view larger
The three candidates for Santa Barbara County sheriff participated in a forum Thursday night staged by the Isla Vista Community Services District. From left, incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown and challengers Lt. Eddie Hsueh and Lt. Brian Olmstead.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The three candidates for Santa Barbara County sheriff took their campaigns for top cop into Isla Vista Thursday night for a forum staged by the Isla Vista Community Services District.

Incumbent Sheriff Bill Brown and challengers Lt. Brian Olmstead and Lt. Eddie Hsueh are competing for the sheriff’s post in the June 5 election. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will face off in November.

The three candidates were soft-spoken and respectful of each other during the forum, in front of a standing room only crowd of about 75 people.

All the candidates even denounced “white supremacy,” in response to a bizarre challenge from a member of the crowd to do so.

They fielded a variety of questions — from how authorities respond to sexual assault reports and ways to reduce friction between law enforcement and Isla Vista residents, to whether sheriff’s deputies should cooperate with ICE federal immigration agents and why the candidates did not agree to a campaign-spending limit.

“Sex without consent isn’t sex; it’s rape,” Brown said. “If an act of affirmative consent isn’t given, it is rape.”

The candidates agreed that gaining convictions through the District Attorney’s Office is often difficult, so it's important that Isla Vista residents know how the Sheriff’s Office responds to sex assault cases.

“Educating residents on sexual assault is an important thing, and the steps law enforcement goes through,” said Lt. Olmstead.

Hsueh was more sobering in his tone.

A crowd of people attending sheriff’s candidates forum. Click to view larger
A standing-room-only crowd filled the sla Vista Community Services District office Thursday night for a forum with the three candidates running for Santa Barbara County sheriff. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

“Sometimes justice is not served in cases like this,” Hsueh said. “It’s one thing to make an arrest. It’s another to prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Brown said that relations between law enforcement and Isla Vista residents have improved over the years.

He cited statistics to prove his case: In 2014, there were 130 arrests during Deltopia; 2015, 102 arrests; 2016, 45 arrests; 2017, 42 arrests and 2018, 25 arrests.

“We have seen a steady, downward trend, and that’s not by accident,” Brown said.

He contended that the problems come from people who don’t live in Isla Vista.

Hsueh said Deltopia and other Isla Vista events should be sanctioned and organized by the Sheriff’s Department, to minimize potential problems.

Olmstead said there’s “so much positive energy out here,” but that unfortunately a lot of negative issues arise from the overconsumption of alcohol.

The candidates also agreed that residents need to feel safe to report potential drug use, abuse or overdoses to law enforcement, without fear of retribution.

“It’s too important," Olmstead said. "We need to get that medical response there so people won’t die. It’s a lot more important to get the medical help than to make an arrest.”

Hsueh agreed.

“It’s mainly about public trust,” Hsueh said. “The public needs to feel safe that they are not going to jail if they call us.”

Brown said drugs are "an epidemic problem in our country."

He was the most cautious of the candidates on whether to arrest.

"If they are not culpable in terms of someone's overdose, we won't take them to jail," Brown said. 

All the candidates agreed that they are "not immigration officers," so they wouldn't cooperate with ICE for serious offenders who put the public at risk. 

"Unfortunately the system is broken and we need comprehensive immigration reform," Olmstead said. 

Olmstead briefly brought up an issue that dominated a previous sheriff's forum in Santa Maria — mandatory overtime.

"We need to address the recruiting problem," Olmstead said. "Custody deputies in the jail have worked mandatory overtime. That leads to fatigue. That leads to mistakes. 

On the issue of minimizing tensions in Isla Vista, the candidates agreed that they need to do a better job of engaging and educating the public, and learning from their mistakes.

"We don't always do the right thing," Brown said. "We recruit people from the human race. They make mistakes."

Olmstead agreed: "We need to make sure we have the trust of the public."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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