Imagine The Police playing a concert and getting shut down by Isla Vista Foot Patrol for violating a noise ordinance on a Saturday night. It would be a fitting and altogether expected ending to a fun night in Isla Vista.
Of course, college students have been complaining about the police for longer than Sting and company have been playing music, and a lot of complaints are overblown or nearsighted. In Isla Vista’s case though, the police have recently gone a little haywire.
Huge efforts are being made to enforce noise ordinances in an attempt to shut down parties, and officers seem to spend most of their days detaining legal and illegal carriers of alcohol. There is a place for these laws, and their enforcement is not inherently wrong, but since the events of the 2013-2014 academic year the police have stepped up their involvement significantly.
The problem is that the police have been focusing on the wrong things, and harmless offenses are being punished more often than harmful ones. If the police’s goal is to curtail underage drinking, stop drunk mobs from forming, or to simply protect students from risky behavior, then they are going about it wrong. Small house parties are not nearly as dangerous as large and uncontrolled events, but they are being treated with equal attention.
What makes this unacceptable is that the police have access to all the information they need to find the most dangerous parties. They have access to the daily keg lists, and while not all keg parties are hugely out of hand, most out of hand parties have kegs. Parties with huge amounts of alcohol are likely to attract most people, and parties with uncontrolled sources like kegs are most likely to attract freshmen and out of town guests that have nowhere else to party. It is places like these that drunk mobs congregate, where vulnerable and drunk freshmen find themselves in compromising situations, and where the police need to shift their focus. As a rule, the most destructive behavior usually happens when partiers lack respect for the homes of strangers.
With all this in mind, it is important to note that the police are not as in tune with Isla Vista’s culture as we would like them to be. There is no governing body or community voice in place that can really give them direction. The police have become activist because they have had to do so—Isla Vista really is a lawless place without their presence, so a lot of responsibility falls on their shoulders. Still, they ought to do a better job of identifying the source of Isla Vista’s problems. As long as they fail to address the source of Isla Vista’s cultural problems, responsible fun will be ruined for the rest of us.