Last Saturday, Feb. 2, in the Isla Vista Community room, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department hosted its first ever Isla Vista Citizen’s Academy. Offered free of charge, the program is a five-week interactive course, “designed specifically for college students, faculty, and residents in Isla Vista.” The program takes place from Feb. 2 to Mar. 2, with classes every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Applications for the academy closed on Jan. 2 and of the 25 spots offered, 20 were filled. However, due to the weekend’s rainy weather conditions, not all original attendees were able to make it. Regardless, 15 Santa Barbara County residents still managed, ranging in age and occupations.
Though the Sheriff Department routinely provides Citizen’s Academies for the southern and northern Santa Barbara counties, this academy is the first one to “focus on Isla Vista related issues for Isla Vista residents.”
The person responsible for its creation, Isla Vista Community Resource Deputy Justin Schroeder, became motivated to start and lead this program after witnessing much public demand for it at one of the first community meetings he attended as community resource deputy last November.
Despite the demand for this academy, only 20 people applied and many of the I.V. residents who expressed interest in the program backed out due to schedule conflicts, according to Schroeder. Because of the low number of I.V. applicants, Schroeder decided to open up the academy to all residents in Santa Barbara County.
Participants in the Isla Vista Citizen’s Academy will get an exclusive look into the work that goes into law enforcement with a blend of presentations and interactive events like training on what to do in active shooter situations, hearing real 911 calls, and taking a tour of the county jail.
Since Saturday was the first academy meeting, the focus was on getting members acquainted with each other and how the Sheriff’s Department functions. The meeting began with members introducing themselves and explaining what they hoped to take away from the program, as well as a presentation from Schroeder about new project initiatives.
One of these new projects in the works is the I.V. Safe App which will allow I.V. residents to contact the police department through direct messaging instead of having to call. The goal is that projects like this will allow I.V. residents to feel less hesitant in contacting law enforcement since some residents report feeling intimidated in calling 911.
Schroeder and the other officers attending this event emphasized that their hopes for this program is to unite community members and officers so that they can work together. “I hope it opens up the line of communication a little bit more,” Schroeder stated.
While the program was designed for I.V. residents, it is open to other county residents of all careers and backgrounds. Some of Saturday’s attendees chose to participate for a better understanding of the Sheriff’s Department, others came out of a specific interest in law enforcement.
Santa Barbara County resident Daniel Soukup explained how connecting with law enforcement officials and learning about their roles in the department helped him to understand when an officer is being transgressive versus when they are doing their jobs.
By attending the I.V. Citizen’s Academy, Soukup hopes he can help educate other residents and encourage them to connect to the officials in I.V. “People, when they’re young, should have a clear view of what the police do so that they won’t spend the rest of their lives with a hostile view towards them,” Soukup stated.
On the other hand, EMT and Santa Barbara City College student Alexia Mendoza explained, “I wanted to see what they do on a day-to-day basis so if I pursue that career path I know what to do.”
Lt. Juan Camarena from I.V. Foot Patrol spoke at the event and highlighted the importance of consistently making an effort to connect with I.V. residents through programs like the academy since each year students leave I.V. after graduation.
The community is always changing and being filled with young minds whom Camarena wants to hold a positive view of law enforcement and the community itself. “I want improvement in Isla Vista,” Camarena stated.
While the Isla Vista Citizen’s Academy has commenced and its applications closed, anyone who is interested in joining the citizen’s academy is encouraged to apply to the next citizen’s academy which should happen sometime later this year. Deputy Schroeder and Lt. Juan Camarena also have an open door policy at the station and encourage residents to approach them with questions or concerns.