Ex-Boston Police Commissioner Davis Presents Recommendations for Dealing With Disturbances at UMass Amherst

Edward Davis

AMHERST, Mass. ­– Former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis today released a comprehensive report with recommendations for how the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Town of Amherst should handle large, crowd-related disturbances such as the so-called Blarney Blowout. His findings to prevent or de-escalate future incidents focus on seven key areas: community policing, police planning, police response, high-risk drinking, social media, student and UMass accountability and public perception.

“This report contains some hard observations, and I commend the university for taking a detailed look at this problem and to everyone involved for sharing their candid observations,” Davis said. “There was general agreement among all stakeholders that the 2014 Blarney Blowout was a collective failure by the town, the university and the students. They expressed a desire to move forward together with a collective responsibility to provide improved safety and a better quality of life for everyone in Amherst.”

In the 65-page report, Davis stated, “Our primary finding and subsequent recommendation is for the Amherst Police Department and the UMass Police Department to more fully adopt a comprehensive model of community policing. During this event, there was a clear lack of coordination, communication and collaboration among and between law enforcement agencies, UMass Amherst and the Town of Amherst. A community policing framework focusing on collaborative partnerships, organizational transformation and problem solving would allow for a more cohesive and strategic response to a large crowd disturbance such as the Blarney Blowout.”

The report, “A Safer Community Through Partnership,” was praised by both UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Amherst Town Manager John Musante.

Subbaswamy said, “Commissioner Davis has done exactly what we asked. He has taken a fresh, 360-degree view of our situation and provided a path forward. We must work together to break a failed cycle of behavior and response. UMass Amherst and the town must jointly pursue community-wide strategies to deter high-risk drinking, improve social settings for students and adopt best practices in law enforcement. I am committed to improved collaboration with the town, and as recommended in the report, joint training, planning and operations conducted by our police forces to help prevent or de-escalate events such as the Blarney Blowout.”

Musante said, “The report makes clear that it is the collective responsibility of the university, students, and the town to initiate and support actions to reduce problem drinking by young people. The Town of Amherst is committed to this effort in partnership with the university and the wider community. The town also welcomes Commissioner Davis’ recommendations to increase joint training opportunities for Amherst and university police and for both departments to take steps to more fully embrace community policing practices.”

The chancellor and the town manager have agreed to bring their leadership teams and police officials together with Davis to discuss specific next steps, strategies and tactics to improve joint community policing.

Subbaswamy said the university would act promptly to implement key recommendations that fall entirely within its jurisdiction. These include:

  • Guest registration reforms to prevent an enormous influx of visitors into residence halls, immediately report overcrowding to UMass Police, and set limits on visitors based on building capacity and special circumstances. This will require improved communication and coordination among residence hall staff, security monitors and UMass Police. Full implementation of a new card swipe system for guests, now in place in about half the residence halls, will monitor visitor capacity.
  • Stepped-up enforcement of the university’s alcohol policy to deter illegal consumption in residence halls as well as additional education and outreach about high-risk drinking.
  • Expanded use of campus facilities by students during high-demand hours, especially 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. This includes the Recreation Center, Campus Center and dining commons for informal gatherings and additional non-alcoholic programming. Meanwhile, a campus space study to determine student social needs, including an expanded student center, is already under way.
  • Expanded entertainment and non-alcoholic programming at the Mullins Center.
  • Funding and hiring neighborhood relations liaisons to work directly with local community members, hear their everyday concerns and build relationships to deter disorderly student behavior. Similar positions have been successful at Boston College and Georgetown University.

Vinayak Rao, president of the Student Government Association at UMass Amherst, expressed support for the Davis report. “The Student Government Association has reviewed the recommendations given by the offices of Ed Davis and looks forward to its implementation and continual collaboration between the student body, the university, the Town of Amherst and all other stakeholders involved.”

Henry M. Thomas III, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, praised the thorough work done by Davis’ team. “This report provides a clear roadmap for dealing with the large-group disturbances that from time to time affect colleges and universities in all parts of the nation but have occurred at UMass Amherst with undue frequency over the years.” Thomas said. “As the Davis report notes, Chancellor Subbaswamy and the Amherst campus are to be commended for the ‘forward thinking’ approach being taken in addressing these issues in such a comprehensive and systematic fashion. I look forward to all parties responding in a productive and positive fashion and to great progress emerging from this process.”

UMass President Robert Caret noted, “The recommendations that former Commissioner Davis makes are serious ones, and I hope that all parties will take steps to implement them. I know that we at the university will do our part, and I further know that we look forward to working closely with the Town of Amherst and other parties to bring about the changes that are needed and create the new climate that we seek.” Caret emphasized that, “This is an important effort and we intend to see it through. UMass Amherst is on the rise–—and dealing with the issues this report addresses will allow it to climb even higher in the future.”