Sunday, April 27, 2008

No longer a lone voice in the sobering wilderness

I'm very pleased that the Daily Nexus wrote an article on something that I think should be at the top of the agenda for realistic change in Isla Vista and UCSB in the near future. Namely, a sobering (aka "sobriety") center in I.V. It works on State Street in Santa Barbara and can work even better in Isla Vista. I completely disagree with IVFP Lieutenant Brian Olmstead who said we already have a sobering facility: the County Jail. Nice. With this cunning observation, Olmstead flippantly ignores the huge financial and emotional costs incurred by criminalizing an event as mundane as a night of too much alcohol. The unspoken truth is that virtually all of the police officers, judges, correctional officers, university officials, alcohol and drug abuse counselors and d.a.'s got drunk when they were between the ages of 16 and 24; and I'm guessing that more than just a few of them got drunk last weekend and/or have plans to do so next weekend. What am I saying, exacly? I'm saying that there is more than an ounce of hypocrisy under-girding the "get tough on college drunkenness" mentality. The good intentions are over-shadowed by the hypocrisy. Yes, getting drunk and stumbling around in the street is different than doing it in the privacy of your own home, or at a friend's home. However, morally speaking, they are about the same. Someone that is drunk really can't be trusted to make good decisions about where they are going to be drunk. One thing that should make us all feel safer is that many in the Isla Vista community live without ready access to cars. Unfortunately, you can't say that about the rest of the local drinking population.

A sobering (or "sobriety") center in Isla Vista would save everyone money. It would save the taxpayer all of the many costs incident to booking someone into the county jail. The costs per arrest, to the taxpayer, can reach into the thousands. On average we're talking about hundreds of dollars per arrest. Consider the cost of two police officers spending about two hours between the initial contact and returning to IV or UCSB per arrestee. For wages, insurance, equipment costs, and the attending support staff costs (e.g., dispatch), this may range from about $200 to $400. Then there are the costs of booking and housing for up to 24 hours. This can also cost hundreds of dollars. Then, should the person end up in court (and most do), there are the wages of the many court personnel that are involved, including lawyers and judges. And these are all costs on the taxpayer (yes, some are off-set by fines and fees). However, should the person exercise their right to a jury trial and/or decide to initiate a lawsuit and complaint against the police and their employer, the sky is the limit on costs. We are talking about thousands of dollars in those cases, easily; all on the taxpayer. Notice I haven't even mentioned yet the costs on the individual in terms of legal fees, fines, reputational harm, as well as physical and emotional injury. These costs are unacceptable to most.

It is definitely time for a sobering center.

Bike-share in Isla Vista

Bike share programs have been around for decades. New programs are sprouting in major cities around the globe with high-tech anti-theft devices and pay-in programs with swipe cards, etc. I, for one, don't think these programs need to cost any real money to succeed; especially in the unique environment known as Isla Vista. Arguably, Isla Vista already has such program in effect, albeit "unofficial". Here's my proposal: (1) Have the UCPD and IVFP register all the abandoned bikes as UCPD property; (2) encourage departing residents of UCPD and I.V. to donate their bikes to the program; (3) solicit volunteers and local bike shops to repair them and paint them yellow (a nice UC color), (4) distribute them around campus and I.V., (5) make it an infraction to lock them, put them in a gated area or behind closed doors, leave them parked on a street or sidewalk, take them outside of a five mile radius or to deface them in any way. Since they would be UCPD property, it would be a misdemeanor to take them with the intent to permanently deprive its owner of them. (6) Make clear that they are to be shared in the true spirit of sharing; in other words, no crying when someone takes one that you parked outside a lecture hall with the expectation that it would be there when you got out. If it's not, walk until you see another one.

Such a program would make a dent in the bike theft problem at UCSB and I.V. At the very least it would reduce the number of people who are criminalized for taking a bike that they believe to be abandoned (which may turn out to be reported stolen). And, it would save the students money they might otherwise spend on bikes, bike locks, and gas. It could possibly reduce green house gas emissions a bit, and promote biking as a viable mode of public transportation. Reduced bike theft, and dragnets by the UCPD to crack down on them, might even mean savings for the tax and tuition payer in terms of reducing the numbers of paid staff whose responsibilities include bike theft suppression efforts.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Hidden (and not so Hidden) Costs of a DUI

In a recent article on I was quoted on the many costs of a DUI arrest. A lot of people think of a DUI in terms of a big fine and a license suspension. This, my friends, is only the tip of the iceberg. As I have emphasized in previous posts, driving under the influence is a bad idea for non-financial reasons. It can end lives, and otherwise destroy them. Fatal traffic accidents, severe injuries (brain damage, paralysis, dismemberment, etc.) are, what should seem, the obvious effects of a person with limited coordination and judgment hurling a one to two ton metal object through a human-populated area. And don't forget about prison. But what about the financial costs, for those of you who are naive enough to believe that a horrific accident couldn't possibly happen to you, and are yet rational enough to respond to financial risks? Well, they stack up quickly. You should think about the fine ($1,500-$2,500), the school ($600-$1,000), the impound and storage fee ($300-$500), the booking fee ($115), any cost recovery due to an emergency response ($600-$2,000), any restitution owing to a victim ($1,000 - ?????), any probation fee (est. $1,116), dmv fees for license re-issuance ($250), insurance hikes($5,000 - ?????), fees for jail alternatives ($70 - $2,500), damage to your reputation (affecting your present and future employment and academic pursuits; costs: thousands), and lawyers' fees ($1,000 to $20,000). The MINIMUM cost of a dui, according to this analysis, is about $10,000. Of course it can, and often does, cost much much more depending on whether there was an accident, how much harm a dui conviction does to your particular academic and/or career standing and goals (which translates to lost income) and how much you end up paying for legal services. DUI is undoubtedly a bad, and expensive, idea. Don't do it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Wrong Kind of Sticker?

A couple of months ago, I cited a real world example of the usefulness of a certain sticker that I make available free at my office, and for sale on The stickers in the photo are next to the front door of a house that was recently searched by the police pursuant to a warrant. It happens that neither the "Back the Badge" sticker, nor the American flag, deterred law enforcement from obtaining the warrant, nor executing the search. I can't say I'm surprised. On a related topic, I do sometimes wonder if the CHP's 11-99 Foundation license plate frames help lead-footed Mercedes drivers escape traffic stops and tickets. Apparently, for an $1,800 donation, you get a license plate frame and a special wallet and a badge which is perfect for handing to a CHP officer who pulls you over for speeding. $1,800!? Is this another example of rich people buying favor with the police? It is little wonder that those license plate frames are only seen on very expensive cars. Granted the organization provides assistance to the families of CHP officers in need, but is it really working toward the greater benefit of public safety and good government? If the wealthy folks who can afford to give $1,800 to the families of CHP officers (who, by the way, are already indirectly and directly compensated through pretty decent benefits packages by the California taxpayer) really care so much about the families of fallen CHP officers, can't they care, instead, in private? Or is their real motive to get out of speeding tickets by publicly displaying their support of this organization? Is their confidence that they won't get either pulled over or cited for speeding putting the rest of us at risk?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Policy on Drunkenness in Isla Vista has Changed

A source at the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office has informed me that the policy affecting those facing their first stand-alone Public Intoxication charge, who are under 21, has officially changed. The year-long experiment has, apparently, revealed that the heavy-handed approach will not serve the greater ends of justice. It appears that numerous jury trials, tried by me and my public defender colleagues, made the point. So what's the point? Well, there are actually several: People are willing to stand up for their reputations as law-abiding citizens. They are not, always, going to lie down and take it, just because that's what the Government wants or expects them to do. They have a right to a jury trial, and are willing to assert it in order to answer to aggressive Government conduct. Out of the five Public Intoxications which were tried by jury since the change in the long-standing policy of leniency, only one resulted in a guilty verdict.

The costs of the "experiment" were huge. Among the costs were the human costs incurred by those who were needlessly criminally charged, the reputational cost of criminal convictions (affecting employability, academics, etc.) , the loss of driving privileges, the legal fees incurred by the defendants, the costs to the community of some 20 or more days of jury trial time (conservatively, $80,000 in salaries, and other costs associated with running a courtroom; not to mention the cost of significant time borne by hundreds of jurors and potential jurors).

I will, however, give credit to the District Attorney's Office for having both the courage and wisdom to change their minds and draw a curtain on the policy. The old practice of allowing first-offenders to take classes as a means to wash out the criminal taint and driving privilege loss associated with a Public Intoxication arrest made, and will make, a lot of sense. The hammer has its uses in the courthouse, but not when we are talking about a single instance of drunkenness while in college. The arrest, a night in jail, a hang-over, and some classes should [but doesn't always] resolve the problem. Now we should look ahead toward installing a sobering center in Isla Vista.