Amherst, UMass officials prepare for potential weekend disturbances

Thursday, April 24, 2014
AMHERST — As the semester for local college students winds down, public safety officials are planning for the possibility of a weekend in which alcohol-fueled behavior could cause disturbances around town.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said Tuesday that police officers are prepared to handle any incidents that occur, with a particular focus on Saturday. “Our whole department will be coming in at various times during the day,” Livingstone said.

While police and fire personnel had a reprieve, of sorts, during the Easter and Patriots Day weekend, the last weekend in April has traditionally been one in which students try to have larger parties and may attempt to stage a Hobart Hoedown-like event someplace.

Wet weather would help prevent some of these issues, he said. “We’re hoping for rain,” Livingstone said. “It’s that simple.”

Staff from the Amherst police and fire departments and University of Massachusetts police met earlier this week to plan about how to deal with problems.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the departments need to be prepared. “This is the last really big weekend for the kids to get a little nuts,” Nelson said.

Along with assistance from UMass, there is a commitment of 30 Massachusetts State Police officers, some of whom will help with traffic enforcement.

When all forces are added together, Livingstone said, there could be as many as 100 officers on the streets.

Livingstone said he expects some officers to be positioned in North Amherst and lower Main Street, two places where students are known to congregate, as early as 10 a.m.

There also will be continued community policing efforts, such as those that have involved going door-to-door at Townehouse Apartments on Meadow Street and rentals on Hobart Lane in advance of weekends. These have demonstrated that students living at these off-campus homes aren’t trying to stage parties.

“The residents of Hobart and Townehouse have been respectful of our requests,” Livingstone said.

He observed that police do not go looking to break up parties. During the weekend of April 12 and 13, police responded to several parties with a dozen to 25 people and had no issues, so long as they did not grow in size.

“As long as we don’t get complaints, we don’t have to deal with them,” Livingstone said.

UMass officials are doing some programming on campus, including a barbecue between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Southwest area of campus.

Sally Linowski, assistant dean of students, told the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking on Wednesday that officials understand this is the final weekend for students before final exams. The idea is to offer them free food and a festival-like atmosphere and “have it be a stress break.”

A similar barbecue was organized April 13 when social media and emails indicated students were planning a large-scale, off-campus party.

Two weeks ago, UMass officials sent email to students and parents about responsibilities in the community during spring weekends. Similar messages are expected to be sent before this weekend, said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.

Linowksi said students have other events planned, such as the Five College Relay for Life Friday and Saturday, as well as others in individual areas of the campus.

Livingstone said he appreciates that UMass officials are offering some events on campus and assisting in monitoring social media.

Ambulances, meanwhile, may be occupied with those who have had too much to drink, as well as visitors attending the Supercuts SoccerFest on campus and a car show Friday and Saturday. Nelson said there will likely be ambulance calls for bumps and bruises and twisted ankles.