Police used helicopter and hundreds of extra officers to control UMass weekend parties

  • DAN LITTLE Members of the student initiative Team Positive Presence Victor Altadonna, 23, left, and Maggie Moffett, 19, offer Tootsie Rolls to the crowd of students making their way to the Mullins Center for a free concert during the Blarney Blowout festivities Saturday at UMass.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2016 1:30:07 PM

AMHERST — A Massachusetts State Police helicopter equipped with a camera was among the tools used by law enforcement to maintain peace in Amherst on Saturday.

The helicopter provided live views of large-scale parties and assorted dangerous behavior, such as college-age people consuming alcohol on the roofs of off-campus homes, police reported.

The Blarney Blowout, for the second year in a row, remained largely a subdued event and did not create the drunken disruptions that in 2014 led to property damage, streets being blocked and police deploying pepper spray to bring intoxicated people under control.

However, Amherst Police reported more than 20 parties during the course of the morning and afternoon Saturday, some of which drew hundreds of green-clad college-age people.

But Police Chief Scott Livingstone reiterated Monday that he was extremely pleased with how the weekend went, adding that the 220 police officers, 171 of whom came from out of town through a regional mutual aid partnership, successfully kept control of the situation.

“It was busy and I think the operational plan was absolutely necessary,” Livingstone said.

The helicopter equipped with a high-definition camera system provided a live feed to the emergency operations center at the police station, providing clear views of where large parties were taking place or about to occur, Livingstone said.

This assisted in spotting people consuming alcohol on the roofs of homes, and also helped police determine that a report of large fight in a Main Street parking lot at 1:14 p.m. was a hoax. Livingstone said this saved time by not having officers dispatched to that area.

Police also paid close attention to the number of people boarding PVTA buses. As part of the protocol, police were informed when a large number of college-age people were being ferried around town, and where they were being dropped off. The first call about a packed bus came at 9:54 a.m., when more than 200 students had been dropped off at Puffton Village.

Officers used social media, such as Twitter, to identify where parties might occur, including at 10:25 a.m. when numerous students said they were heading to Puffer’s Pond.

UMass officials said they, too, were pleased, again enacting rules such as prohibiting off-campus guests from dormitories, not allowing visitors to park on campus and putting restrictions in place on the dining commons.

“We think things went very well,” said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski. “Students really weren’t out and about in extraordinarily significant numbers during the day.”

Because most people at the gatherings that did occur were cooperative, only a handful of arrests were made, Livingstone said. He attributes this to the continued outreach by William Laramee, the department’s community liaison officer, and Eric Beal, the neighborhood liaison employed by UMass. Both men visited dozens of homes in the days leading up to Saturday.

Seven arrests

The seven arrests were considered a last resort for police.

“People who were arrested were ones that officers were getting zero cooperation from,” Livingtsone said.

Those arrested were:

Kevin Van-Dam, 20, of Westborough, at 11:26 a.m. at 294 College St. on a charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol; Patrick J. Alviti, 22, of Peabody, at 12:33 p.m. at 140 Sunset Ave. on a charge of disorderly conduct; Cameron Adams, 20, of Mendon, and Christopher J. Palmeiro, 20, of Wilmington, at 12:59 p.m. at 200 College St. on charges of being minors in possession of alcohol and violating the town’s open container bylaw; Danilo Milversky, 22, of Uxbridge, at 1:31 p.m. at 5 Salem Place on a charge of violating the town’s noise bylaw; Matthew P. Larson, 21, of Sandwich, at 3:05 p.m. at 104 College St. on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and violating the town’s open container bylaw; and Daniel P. Mahoney, 19, of Worcester, at 3:07 p.m. at 50 Meadow St. on a charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol.

An additional 10 people were summoned to court for various alcohol-related violations.

Firefighters treated five intoxicated individuals at UMass and four elsewhere in town, said Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson. During the 24-hour period beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, there were 30 calls for service, including a couple of malicious fire alarms that were pulled.

More off-campus activity

Despite the preparations, Livingstone said it appears there was more off-campus activity than in 2015.

“I think there were a lot more planned parties (this year), which we are good with,” Livingstone said.

According to the police logs, the first response to a party occurred at 10:23 a.m., when police responded to 53 Meadow St. in North Amherst where people were gathered on the lawn.

Many of the big parties, though, occurred on lower Main Street, the section of the road between the railroad tracks east to the intersection with North East Street, with Shumway and South Whitney streets both seeing several parties.

At 10:36 a.m., police logs showed “waves of Blarney goers flocking down” Shumway Street. Less than an hour later, at 11:27 a.m., police responded to the road again, where an estimated 400 people were attending multiple parties and one resident described it as “a block party.”

At 10:48 a.m., officers cleared out a party at 200 College St.

At 12:30 p.m., people began using the Boyden and Perron parking lot on South Whitney Street to get to nearby parties on that street. There were also parties at 12:58 p.m. at 212 College St., at 1:35 p.m. on Railroad Street, where guests were walking into the road holding beer bottles and stopping traffic, and at 3:55 p.m. at 263 College St., where more than 300 people were surrounding a large bonfire.

Livingstone said police will do an after-action review. He is not sure of the costs, but anticipates that the overtime for the department and the costs of bringing in out-of-town police will be less than in 2015 because activity wound down earlier, with most police departing between 4 and 5 p.m.

One surprise was that the promoted free concert at the Mullins Center, with headliner Jason Derulo, drew about 2,000 fewer student spectators than last year.

“The concert never drew the numbers we expected,” Livingstone said.

Still, Blaguszewski said having an event that keeps thousands of students on campus is an achievement.

“I absolutely would label the concert a success,” Blaguszewski said.

Livingstone said Blarney Blowout remains a popular day for parties, though behavior is improving.

“It may never go away completely, but we’re hoping it gets to the point where students are policing themselves,” Livingstone said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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