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Local News

Isla Vista Report Recommends Uniform Community Policing Practices, Restorative Court

To strengthen shared civic responsibilities among stakeholders, UC Santa Barbara trustee committee emphasizes success of policing, justice court, task force

In the minutes and hours after last spring’s murderous rampage in Isla Vista, law enforcement agencies scrambled to respond to the unincorporated Santa Barbara County area adjacent to the UC Santa Barbara campus.

Coordinated confusion was how UCSB senior Ali Guthy described the aftermath.

Blue uniform-clad UCSB police officers, Isla Vista Foot Patrol officers in green and sheriff’s deputies in tan swarmed the area, doing their jobs yet illustrating a potential problem outlined in a recent report by the UCSB Foundation Trustee’s Advisory Committee on Isla Vista Strategies.

The independent report recommended making resources and community policing training more uniform, an interesting idea for an area with so many possible first responders.

“They all look the same to us,” said Guthy, the UCSB Associated Students president who served on the trustee committee that began meeting in May. “Are they being trained the same? Isla Vista is a very unique place. That’s a specialized interaction.

“It’s just getting everyone in sync. The question is always whose job is it? The people who ultimately suffer are the people in the community.”

Establishing an Isla Vista neighborhood restorative justice court, hiring a dedicated deputy district attorney and creating a joint safety task force made up of representatives from local law enforcement, students and local residents were among the other two dozen report recommendations to improve viability and safety in Isla Vista.

The committee also hoped authorities could better compile crime data — a major frustration in developing the report, said Dan Burnham, retired CEO of Raytheon and a member of the panel.

He said statistics back community policing models as a way for officers to work closely with the community they serve, whether that means meeting regularly with residents and business owners or finding ways to unify training and resources to better communicate when it matters most.

“Not simply to fight crime but to be aware of the factors that create crime, and to do that you have to be plugged into the community,” Burnham explained. “The cars look different. The bikes look different. Is that good or isn’t it good? The solution to I.V. is not more policing.”

UCSB police and the Sheriff’s Department already cross-train to some extent, and have the same state-mandated education, but officials from both agencies believe more could be done.

Acting Undersheriff Don Patterson said the department will consider asking the county Board of Supervisors in June for funds to hire the first-ever community resource deputy exclusively serving Isla Vista, similar to the beat coordinator positions used by Santa Barbara police.

“Over the years, the population and the calls for service have increased, but the staffing levels have not,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelley Hoover said. “Now deputies are busy handling calls and it would be beneficial to have a deputy who is designated to handle community outreach services.”

UCSB police already embrace a community policing model — regularly meeting with students and residents — but Sgt. Rob Romero said the department is open to more joint, formalized training.

The model’s main challenge lies with a transient population. As a result, officers are continuously teaching students before more rotate in and out of campus and Isla Vista.

“A lot of these young people are out (on their own) for the very first time in their lives,” Romero said. “This is a growing-up age for a lot of them, and we understand, and we don’t want to ruin their good time. We don’t want to be the party poopers out there. It needs to be a combined effort from law enforcement and the community.

“Everyone can do better. We’re not the experts at everything. It’s the responsibility of the officers to do their best to explain why we do what we do.”

Community policing first came up in a separate joint task force called IV Safe, led by District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

That’s also where Dudley debuted her Isla Vista community restorative court idea.

A veteran district attorney would work from an Isla Vista office to prosecute all local cases, and a paralegal would decide whether offenses could instead go to a restorative court made up of community member volunteers.

“When you live and work in the community, you understand it better,” Dudley said of the dedicated prosecutor. “Most district attorneys haven’t even been to Isla Vista. You have a higher level of vestment in that community.”

Instead of being prosecuted and building a criminal record, a young person charged with minor offenses such as vandalism, public urination, drunk in public, minor battery or other crimes deemed an affront to the community could be sentenced by restorative court to clean up the beach, etc.

“This gives back to the community,” Dudley told Noozhawk. “What we have found is that when people do that ... the community feels better, and the person who committed the crime feels better because they actually improved the community.”

Ideally, Dudley said a joint effort from the county, UCSB and Santa Barbara City College would fund the salary and benefits of the new prosecutor, paralegal and one office staff person at $500,000 annually.

She would want at least a two-year commitment, so she needs $1 million to be safe.

All the entities like the proactive idea, but so far no one has stepped up with money, Dudley said.

“Isla Vista would not be Isla Vista without UCSB and SBCC,” she said. “In my world it seems like a win-win.

“It would be so sad if nothing came out of this report. It’s frustrating for me because I feel like I have one of the answers.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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