UMass and Amherst, MA Negotiate Public Safety Issues

Thousands of students, many underage, converged at an off-campus party at UMass Amherst earlier this month, resulting in six arrests, property damage, and many ambulance trips. That has prompted Amherst town officials this week to ask UMass to step up public safety spending for the rest of the semester. The incident is just the latest in the sometimes complicated relationship between UMass and the town.

It’s almost an annual ritual: the weather gets warmer, UMass students hold bigger, more raucous parties, demanding more police officers and more ambulance trips. Amherst Town Manager John Musante says that puts a strain on resources.

“There are public safety resources that have increased and what I think are unacceptable demands placed on them, and I think they’re stretched to the limit.”

Musante has asked UMass to pay for two additional staffed ambulances on weekends, longer hours at University Health Services, and more police patrols in dorms. Musante says ambulance calls from UMass have increased this school year, leaving the town vulnerable. University spokesman Ed Blaguzewski says UMass will comply with the request for ambulances and police officers, providing an additional $40,000 to the town starting in April.

Kim Griffo, executive director of the International Town-Gown Association, says schools and towns throughout the country struggle with public safety issues. She says it’s reasonable for a college town to ask for more funding.

“There’s a lot of wear and tear on the budget, and so everybody just needs to be prepared, and one way to address it is sit down and talk about it.”

Other schools in the region, like the University of Connecticut, have well-established town relations committees. And while Blaguszewski says UMass has several “working groups” with the town, there’s no equivalent, centralized group for all town-university issues.