Police, UMass criticized in “Blarney Blowout” report

Pepper spray prematurely used, report says

Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis discusses the findings of his report on the response to the "Blarney Blowout".

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Amherst town police, UMass police, and the University of Massachusetts are being criticized in a new report examining what went wrong at this year’s “Blarney Blowout” event.

A 65-page report issued by former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis noted that the police were able to quell disturbances in the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration without serious injuries, but faulted law enforcement for the “premature” use of pepper spray and foggers, and for not having a written plan to deal with this specific event.

The university is also being faulted for a lack of enforcement of their policies, and all parties are being criticized for a lack of communication.

The findings were discussed during a news conference on the UMass campus Friday morning.

Amherst police were called to deal with disturbances in several different areas of town on March 8, 2014.
Amherst police were called to deal with disturbances in several different areas of town on March 8, 2014.

Fifty-eight people were arrested during the series of parties throughout Amherst on March 8. Officers were called to different locations throughout the town to break up crowds that sometimes exceeded 1,000 people. Four officers suffered minor injuries while trying to disperse the large groups.

According to Davis’s report, there was not adequate police staffing for the event, causing law enforcement to be “significantly overwhelmed.”

In the aftermath of the event, some students claimed that the crowd control tactics used amounted to police brutality. Davis’ report made no such assertion, but it did say that there was an “overreliance” by UMass and Amherst police on chemical agents for crowd control, and recommended that the departments be trained jointly on best practices.

“We understand the small numbers of officers present made the use of these weapons an option; however, we believe other options existed,” the report stated.

“Better preparation or a call for immediate mutual aid would likely have reduced the overall threat and the need to fire chemical munition weapons at college students.”

Other recommendations made in the report include officially ending the Blarney Blowout altogether, more closely implementing a community policing strategy, providing more alcohol-free amusements for UMass students, and increasing cooperation and coordination between the university and the town.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said that the department will be conducting the recommended training with the UMass police. He added that they want to do more community policing, but that their staffing levels are limiting. At Friday’s news conference, Livingstone said that the report will be helpful at budgeting time to point to the need for funding.

“Most of our officers are dedicated to routine patrols. It’s difficult for us to expand and train in the community policing policies that we embrace,” Chief Livingstone said.

John Horvath, the chief of the UMass Police Department, said that they will try to cancel the Blarney Blowout for next year, and will be working with local bars and package stores. He said that they will also be notifying students about their efforts.

As for the university itself, Chanceller Kumble Subbaswamy said that they are making changes to their visitor policies, and will be implementing an electronic system to keep track of visitors to the campus.

“So now, we are improving the communication within resident hall staff and the police department as well as the security staff so we know well ahead of time if something bad is about to happen and take necessary steps,” Subbaswamy said.

Davis noted school leaders and police are not the only ones at fault, he said the students are also to blame.

“Lets face it, the students did this and they terrorized the neighborhood and that’s not acceptable so it starts with that behavior. Then everyone does the best they can when responding to it.”

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