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Nuisance house arrests and tickets surge as police combat off-campus parties in Amherst

Police Capt. Christopher Pronovost said Friday the department had a nearly threefold increase in the number of arrests made or $300 tickets issued using the nuisance house bylaw compared to fall 2011.

“The number of parties is pretty consistent, but the nuisance house (numbers) tell us more underage drinking is taking place at these houses,” Pronovost said.

This fall, 105 individuals were arrested or issued tickets under the nuisance house bylaw, compared to 37 last fall. The previous high for offenses related to the bylaw, which went into effect in 2008, was 41 in fall 2010.

It was again a record-setting fall for what police refer to as “quality of life” offenses, which include arrests, summonses and tickets for noise, nuisance house, unlicensed kegs, open containers, minors in possession of alcohol, minors using fake IDs and procuring alcohol for minors. There were 553 such violations in fall 2012, compared to 506 during each of the previous two falls.

Pronovost said nuisance house violations involve more than just a loud party. “There has to be something more than noise,” he said. Usually that means obvious signs that underage drinking is taking place at the house, he said, but it can also be brawls, fights or other disturbances, or guests throwing bottles and cans at police officers and creating a riot-like situation.

Offenses related to noise remained consistent for a third straight fall, with 136 violations, compared to 139 last year and 135 the year before that.

The fines associated with violations of the open container, noise, nuisance house and unlicensed kegs bylaws are all set at $300. Of the 553 offenses, 376 have an associated fine which, if collected in full, would mean the town would receive $112,800.

The exact amount the town takes in won’t be known until spring, as cases continue to make their way through court. But Pronovost said the sum will likely be smaller, since tickets and fines often get reduced by judges or at the discretion of officers.

Pronovost said that the department believes students leaving campus to socialize are increasingly bringing their own alcohol to parties, a concern he has expressed to the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, a partnership between the University of Massachusetts and municipal officials. Pronovost said he expects Amherst police to work with UMass police to try to reduce the numbers of people transporting alcohol in backpacks.

A positive in the data is the low level of recidivism. Pronovost said no house has been ticketed for nuisance three times, which would trigger mandatory eviction proceedings by landlords.

Fall Town Meeting also strengthened the nuisance house bylaw so that on a third offense tenants could be responsible for covering the costs of the public safety officers’ response. Town Manager John Musante and Police Chief Scott Livingstone are developing a way to assess those figures should the need arise.

Pronovost said he believes the bylaws are having an effect.

“I would hate to see what the numbers would be like without these bylaws,” he said.

Police also arrested or summoned to court 174 people for being minors in possession of alcohol. There were 124 violations for open containers, 11 for unlicensed kegs and three for possession of fake IDs. No arrests or summonses were made for providing alcohol to minors.

While there was a slight increase in open container violations from last fall, when 118 occurred, this category continues to show a downward trend. Open container violations peaked in fall 2009 with 174.

In the next week, Pronovost said, he will examine calls for service to see if the department is responding to greater numbers of complaints. The statistics will also be broken down by various demographic groups.

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