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Editorial: Anti-social behavior should be ticket home

If there is to be any reduction in the rising violence directed at Amherst police officers at late-night student parties, and there may not be, it won’t be based on subtlety. It will be the realization dawning in beer-fogged brains that if you choose to tangle with police officers who are just trying to keep the peace in a small town, you will lose things that matter to you.

That may be money. Or your place in school. Or your freedom. Sorry, but the price of lost self-respect just doesn’t seem to register with the louts who decide to rain bottles down on public servants in uniform responding to neighborhood complaints of parties out of control.

Next week, University of Massachusetts officials are scheduled to release statistics on how the school has handled the cases of students flagged for engaging in uncivil behavior that goes against the code of conduct. We are among those who want to see in those figures that the university is taking a no-tolerance approach to rowdyism.

Hit an officer and get convicted for it? In terms of your school standing, you should be out of here.

Anything less perpetuates the problem. It leaves Amherst at the mercy of a mob that’s proven itself incapable, year after year, of respecting the community.

A month into a new school year in Amherst, there is reason to believe steps taken in the past by police, school and town officials and some student organizations are not working.

We have praised ideas advanced in seasons past. Because the student body at UMass churns every semester, efforts to instill a sense of conscience in students — or barring that, fear — must be ongoing.

We think it’s time to call off the pizza parties and cookie giveaways in favor of tough sanctions that remove the worst offenders from our community as quickly as possible. Steps to create and impose real punishments mark most of the corrective actions taken in the past few years, as talented and committed people worked to address this problem. Bigger fines for violations. Letters home to parents. These are good ideas that aren’t enough.

Last Friday, police responding to a student party on North Pleasant Street were greeted with a hail of bottles and cans. The next night, an officer trying to stop a fight on Hobart Lane was struck in the back with a bottle. Also last weekend, a drunk man started throwing bottles around inside a home on Fearing Street and assaulted an officer before he could be restrained with handcuffs.

September was a combative month on the beat for Amherst police. One officer has been out of work for three weeks with a hand injury sustained when a man he was arresting fought back. Two weeks ago, an officer making an arrest while breaking up a fight tussled with a man who tried to grab her gun belt and pull her to the ground.

In the past few weeks, this newspaper has brought sobering accounts of the latest violence. The town’s police chief, Scott Livingstone, says the willingness of people to fight with officers is a growing concern. He notes that when officers show up at parties — always in response to complaints — they are increasingly met with hostile actions.

Amherst parties draw thousands nightly. Students have a right to go out. Most students get the message when police arrive and heed instructions from officers. Still, the number of students who clash with police is significant. Some throw bottles and manage to get away with it. Others find themselves restrained and later handcuffed to a wall in a lower level of the downtown police station.

This is where bad judgment goes to dry out.

Until it is also thoroughly understood to be the first stop on the way out of town, this mess will continue to replay weekly. And the only way to get that message through the haze of intoxication is tough punishment.

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