Sunday, May 25, 2014
AMHERST — Even though the riotous behavior by thousands of college-age people during the “Blarney Blowout” in March brought national attention to Amherst and the University of Massachusetts, town police statistics show there were fewer disturbances impacting the quality of life for residents during the spring semester compared to a year ago.
Police Chief Scott Livingstone said Thursday that there was a drop in the number of arrests, summons and citations related to noise calls compared to the same period in 2013. There were also fewer open-container violations this spring.
“We know that there were two big factors,” Livingstone said. “The weather was very much in our favor, and this year’s Easter weekend and Patriots (Day) weekend falling at the same time was beneficial. Lots of students left town.”
While the Fire Department made more responses with its ambulances to the UMass campus this spring semester than a year ago, with calls rising by 25.8 percent from 120 to 151, the number of intoxicated people treated or taken to the hospital from dorm rooms saw a smaller increase, from 39 to 42.
Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said the spring semester continued a trend of rising emergency calls to the campus. “Part of this is a function of the university bringing in more students,” Nelson said.
But ambulances had a substantially larger increase in responses and transports during the fall, when Nelson said there were more summer-like temperatures. “Weather had a big part to play in this,” Nelson said.
Nelson agreed with Livingstone that the cool and wet spring weather reduced potential problems related to alcohol consumption and student behavior.
Still, the last several weeks of the spring semester, like the first few weeks of early fall, are typically the busiest times for police.
Between March 1 and May 10, 2014, though, the number of noise-related tickets, summons and arrests dropped by 40 percent, from 40 to 24, from the same time period in 2013, according to statistics compiled by Capt. Jennifer Gundersen. Nuisance house violations remained steady with 14 last year and 13 this spring.
There was also a substantial drop in noise complaints made by residents, with police responses to these calls declining by 28.2 percent from 202 to 145. Police also saw open container arrests and summons go down, dipping from 58 to 32. Like noise and nuisance incidents, these carry a $300 penalty.
Livingstone said the department’s proactive efforts, such as visiting with students living off campus, putting the entire department on during some weekends, and requesting assistance from UMass and state police, may have played a role in the reduced activity.
The late April weekend when police predicted a potential “Hobart Hoedown” never materialized. “Hobart weekend was very quiet as well, with bad weather and notice of many police officers working, and continued outreach to renters,” Livingstone said.
Officials suggested that the “Blarney Blowout,” which led to 55 arrests as throngs of college students gathered in various off-campus locations March 8, may have served to dampen enthusiasm for similar activities later in the spring.
The incidents prompted the university to hire former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis to conduct a comprehensive review of what has become a major attraction for college students throughout the area. That study is expected to be completed this summer and in time for the fall semester, said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.
“We want to have this in hand and study what he recommends and put things in place for the fall,” Blaguszewski said.
It’s conceivable that the fallout from “Blarney” caused students to act better for the rest of the semester, Livingstone said.
“I would also like to think that the students themselves were somewhat embarrassed by everything that happened on the ‘Blarney’ weekend, and adjusted behavior,” Livingstone said.
UMass has not yet released its discipline report related to off-campus behavior for the spring though Blaguszewski expects that to be complete after Memorial Day.
The reduced police activity in the spring means the town could see less revenue in fines that go to the general fund. Finance Director Sanford “Sandy” Pooler said so far Amherst has received $13,800 in “nuisance” fines during the 2013-2014 academic year — those related to violations of the noise, nuisance house and keg bylaws — which matches what was collected two years ago but is significantly less than what was taken in during fiscal year 2013. Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the town collected $19,420, or 40.7 percent more than the just concluded academic year.
Fines generated by open containers are also down this year, with $3,970 collected so far, whereas the town got $7,200 and $7,900 in the preceding two years.
Pooler cautions that because not all criminal cases have worked their way through the court system, the revenue from fines for the current year could still increase.