Attacks on Amherst police growing during weekend incidents
AMHERST — Early Sunday morning, as police officers tried to break up a fight on Hobart Lane, one of the aggressors struck an officer in the back with a bottle.
Less than an hour later, on Fearing Street, officers were called by residents to bring an intoxicated man who was throwing bottles inside the home under control. Before police could get him in handcuffs, he rammed into one officer with his shoulder and knocked another officer to the ground.
And on Friday night, police responded to a loud party on North Pleasant Street, but their arrival prompted guests to hurl beer bottles and cans at them.
Though none suffered injuries that required medical attention during the weekend, the level of aggression toward officers is a growing concern, said Police Chief Scott Livingstone.
“Cops are not even out of their cars and they are being met with hostility,” he said.
What once was a rare occurrence has become common, Livingstone said. Even when a person is being taken into custody there is often resistance, he said.
A week ago, a man being arrested during an early morning fight in a downtown restaurant tried to grab an officer’s gun belt and bring her to the floor. She was not injured.
Another officer earlier in September wasn’t as lucky. His hand was injured when the person he was arresting fought back. The officers has been out for three weeks as he recovers.
Lt. Ronald Young, head of the detective bureau, said patrol officers have observed a rising level of assaultive behavior.
Statistics seem to back this up. So far this fall, 11 people are facing charges of assault and battery on a police officer, compared with seven during the same time a year ago.
But Young said there are likely more such incidents that don’t draw the charge, as officers tend to make arrests only in extreme cases. “We’re very judicious when we bring that charge,” Young said.
Capt. Christopher Pronovost said police are reacting to calls to break up loud parties and disturbances; they are not out looking for them. In fact, this weekend police were an hour behind in responding to calls.
“This is more reactive policing, it’s not proactive policing,” Pronovost said.
Livingstone said those who are cooperate with police generally fare better.
He points to early Sunday morning responses at neighboring homes on Summer Street. At one residence, tenants and guests were both considerate toward officers and willing to shut down the party. Officers gave them a verbal warning.
At the other home, 50 to 75 people refused to cooperate and became confrontational toward officers, leading to $2,400 in fines, as four tenants each got tickets for violating both the town’s noise and nuisance house bylaws.
Livingstone said he has spoken to new University of Massachusetts police chief John Horvath about whether his department can provide more patrols on the edge of the campus.
Pronovost said the names of any UMass students involved in weekend activity are given to the dean of students for discipline under the student code of conduct.
The university has not yet released its discipline data, though Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe, who also serves on the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, said she is confident that the figures will soon be released.
O’Keeffe said it is important that the university demonstrate that students are being disciplined and that is having an impact because there are few repeat offenders.
Police confirm that there are few students they encounter more than once.
UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the information has not yet been made public because the appropriate data needs to be sorted out. Discipline under the student code of conduct can include off-campus behavior, but also on-campus incidents such as covering a sprinkler in a dorm room.