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"Blarney Blowout" Report Recommends Joint Training, Community Coordination At UMass Amherst

Robert Rizzuto
The Republican/Masslive.com

A report ordered by the University of Massachusetts Amherst to review an off-campus celebration gone awry that resulted in more than 50 arrests has been released.

Police in riot gear used some 600 pepper pellets to break up thousands of people, some of whom were throwing rocks and bottles, outside several apartment complexes during the series of parties known as “Blarney Blowout.”

Robert Rizzuto of The Republican and Masslive.com captured video of the daytime partying on March 8th.

Five days later, UMass Amherst brought on former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis to review what happened. Davis, now a security consultant, spoke with WAMC News as he began his work in April.

“Every time you pick up the newspaper there’s been a new arrest and celebration issue in a different part of the country,” Davis said. “This overuse of alcohol is one of the main issues and I think the university and the town have to look at all of the problem solving that can be around that as one of the key components of this.”

The report, titled “A Safer Community through Partnership,” found “lack of coordination, communication and collaboration” among and between the law enforcement agencies, the university, and the town of Amherst. It recommends joint training among the police departments, increasing the number of officers, and establishing protocols for large events. Ed Blaguszewski is a UMass Amherst spokesman.

“This particular incident was a real challenge for the police,” Blaguszewski said. “As the commissioner said at the news conference, ultimately this was a matter of scale that they had not encountered before. So the key point is what lessons do you learn going forward so that you can deal with it more effectively in the future.”

The report found the police response including donning riot gear and the premature use of chemical munitions created confusion and increased the crowd’s unruly behavior. At the same time, it finds officers stopped the disturbances without any serious injuries. Amherst Police arrested 55 people, 21 of whom were UMass students. Campus police arrested three people, none UMass students. Daniel Fitzgibbons is also a campus spokesman.

“We’ll be looking at tightening up our guest registration in the residence halls, limiting the number of people who can come in as guests during any given time,” Fitzgibbons said. “We’ll also be looking to toughen up our enforcement of the alcohol policy on campus, especially in the residence halls to make sure that underage students are not in possession of alcohol.”

There were about 7,000 registered guests at the school leading up to that Saturday.  Together town and campus police had 30 officers assigned to the event with state police called in at 2 p.m. UMass will also keep campus facilities open during late night and early morning hours when students would most likely be partying. Although the Blarney Blowout is not a university sanctioned event, the report suggests officially ending it. Blaguszewski says the university will work to address the culture of the event with students and members of the surrounding community.

“Working with the bars and the liquor stores in the area, not just in Amherst but in the surrounding area, so this sort of event is not at all promoted or given legs in terms of starting a conversation or expectation and that large amounts of alcohol are not sold to students in anticipation of such events,” said Blaguszewski.

The report finds social media, specifically Twitter, provided warning signs for the potential scale of the event as early as Friday night, which the university and Amherst police did not act on. It goes on to recommend campus and town police utilize social media as Boston Police, under Davis’ direction, did following the Boston Marathon bombings, according to Blaguszewski.

“Monitoring social media conversations and sharing that information back to the police in a more concerted way,” Blaguszewski said. “Also in the midst of an event to be communicating with those channels. If bus service, as was in the case of this incident last year gets suspended to a certain area for safety issues, they way to let people know about that really is through social media channels.”

The university plans to hire neighborhood liaisons to work with the community in hopes of deterring disorderly student behavior. Davis will continue to advise UMass on its joint community policing efforts.

Click here for the full report.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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