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Amherst officials discuss party-prevention strategies

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Spring is party season, as the sun comes out and classes start to rank beneath 30 racks on students’ collective priority lists, and the Amherst and University of Massachusetts Police Departments know that all too well.

Amherst law enforcement officials are hopeful that a shorter spring schedule this academic year will lead to a reduction in instances of drinking and partying-related incidents.

At last week’s town Select Board meeting, Amherst Police Department Chief Scott Livingstone and UMass Police Department Chief Johnny Whitehead discussed strategies they will be employing to stem student-behavior problems.

According to an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Livingstone quipped that “we’ve shortened our calendar as well,” indicating that the department will step up its enforcement efforts over the weeks following spring break, a time notorious for student antics.

In the past, Amherst police have strongly monitored the first two weeks in May, infamous for the “Hobart Hoedown” parties, but this year, they are indicating their efforts will shift to the last two weeks in April.

The Amherst Police Department (Amherst PD) and the University of Massachusetts Police Department (UMPD) will undertake mutual enforcement efforts in that window, tracking motor vehicle-related incidents and initiating collaborative drunken driving enforcement programs, as well as noise and keg patrols. The police will also disperse bicycle officers throughout neighborhoods that have historically been hurt by student partying issues.
Livingstone told the Select Board he would request funding and resources from the Massachusetts State Police for the last two weekends of April, when the department expects to see a sizeable uptick in student antics.

He will request assistance from the state’s Operating Under the Influence (OUI) Enforcement Team in the form of four to 10 officers, as well as five to 12 officers from the Community Action Team (CAT) squad.

After next week’s spring break, the Amherst PD and UMPD will have full staffing for the remainder of the spring semester. Essentially, any officers who are sick or on vacation or for some other reason cannot work will be replaced by officers on overtime. The UMPD does not allow its officers to take leave in the spring months.

Livingstone also asked the Select Board to implement several increases to fines for drinking and partying-related bylaws, such as the nuisance house and keg bylaws. He said officers have the individual decision over whether to make arrests or issue citations for drinking and noise bylaw violations.

In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Amherst police made 429 arrests for minors in possession of alcohol, 127 OUI arrests for liquor, as well as 25 arrests for attempts to use false identification, 16 for incidents where individuals attempted to deliver or sell alcohol to minors and two each for individuals transporting or attempting to procure alcohol illegally. Amherst Police also made 18 arrests for open containers in vehicles, 80 arrests for disorderly conduct and two arrests for public drunkenness.

In 2008, Amherst Police issued a total of 5,686 citations, making 863 arrests and issuing 458 criminal summonses, according to the town’s website. The police respond to approximately 900 to 1,100 noise disturbance calls per year, Livingstone told the Select Board last week, with around 200 noise ordinance citations at $100 issued annually, and about 100 people arrested for noise violations.

According to the Gazette article, Livingstone said he feels the community is working well with law enforcement, and added that the department attempts to work with individuals in noise and partying situations to avoid making arrests unless necessary.

“For the most part, when officers respond to noise complaints, they are getting cooperation,” he said. “From our perspective, arrest is the last resort.”

Livingstone said arrests are logistically difficult, forcing officers to fill out copious amounts of paperwork and taking time away from actual law enforcement efforts.

Though Livingstone said police have not issued a great number of nuisance house violations, he said he believes when they have, it has been an effective deterrent.

Last fall, officers issued 15 such $300 fines to six different houses, and none have reoffended.

“It’s not a lot to go on, but I think it’s telling,” he told the Select Board.

The nuisance bylaw won approval at the spring 2008 town meeting by a vote of 127 to 34. It holds individuals who host large, disruptive gatherings responsible, and can provide for a $300 fine, as well as arrest at the discretion of the officer responding.

The bylaw was introduced by the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, a group of community members attempting to end what it sees is a culture facilitating dangerous drinking. Violators can be given verbal or written warnings, issued fines for offenses such as unlicensed keg possession and causing “excessive, unnecessary or unusually loud noise,” according to the bylaw’s text, or can be arrested for being a disorderly person or for disturbing the peace.

Chief Whitehead of the UMPD said he feels collaborative education has also helped curtail problematic behavior. He stated that police work to curb drunk driving by educating students about not riding with intoxicated drivers.

Amherst Police will also use a new district patrol system in hopes of giving officers a better understanding of the areas where they work.

In 2008, the UMPD made 316 arrests for liquor law violations in addition to 1,878 criminal citations.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Amherst officials discuss party-prevention strategies”

  1. BTSubs on March 8th, 2010 12:06 pm

    They should get the national guard to come to amherst as well. They’ve got a great reputation on college campuses.

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