I was a little surprised--but more disappointed--that my overnight “ride along” with Amherst Police on a warm Saturday night (Umass Graduation day) did not immerse me in more mayhem, people pyrotechnics or maybe a high-speed chase. Although we did get to zip up Main Street at almost 90 MPH with blue lights flashing for a possible domestic disturbance.
I reported to the Station at 9:00 PM with my trusty old digital camera, new flip video camera, my wife’s i-phone and a good old fashioned notepad and pen. The Patrol Supervisor I was riding shotgun with could go anywhere he pleased, so when trouble occurred we would arrive quickly—as would back up.
First up, a possibly breaking-and-entering on Owen Drive in a large, expensive house still under construction. The new owner told dispatch the lights were on (his family had yet to move in) and he could see two men moving about. They fled into the nearby woods or drove off in a small red car depending if you believed the Dad or his two young children.
We took a fishing trip to a Gatehouse Road condo/apartment complex (a hot spot for calls) because the Supervisor wanted to demonstrate how stolen cars from Holyoke or Springfield end up in Amherst. He typed in one plate number for a 4-door gray Nisan that looked like it had been sitting a while (build up of pollen) and sure enough it was reported stolen in Holyoke about a month ago.
Stolen car (one of many)
And another five cars parked adjacent to it lacked license plates. The bad guys bring them into their apartment making it harder to “run the plates,” and when they want to go out marauding they simply reattach the plate.
Hobart Lane in North Amherst, scene of the infamous Hobart Hoedown was quiet (although we did note broken glass in the parking lot and empty cardboard case of cheap beer.)
The center of town was busy—especially the bars and Antonio’s pizza but not overly so. Around midnight it seemed to get busier. We passed thru town center dozens of times and the Super pointed out that by keeping on the move folks see you a dozen times they might think it was 6 or 8 different patrol cars.
And it’s a good thing he uses smoke-and-mirrors to multiply, because this evening (expected to be a busy night) only six cruisers total (one cop per car) patrol the entire 27 square miles of the People's Republic of Amherst.
We are called out to a house on the Amherst/Pelham border where a mother—the owner of the house—had called the day before saying she was going out of town for the long weekend leaving her teen-aged son home alone for the first time and could the police keep an eye on the house.
Well…she had just called back a few minutes earlier saying a party was happening and could police please break it up. This could tie up officers for hours because if underage kids had been drinking you couldn’t let them drive and they would have to call parents and baby sit them until a parent or guardian came to get them. Hence the request for a Supervisor on scene.
It was still before 11:00 PM and the house was dark and quiet. Another patrol car arrived moments after we did and the Super told the young officer to go around back. He returned a few minutes later and said he could see a teen-aged couple on the couch in what you might call a delicate situation.
The Supervisor had rung the doorbell numerous times and even knocked loudly. Both officers used their powerful flashlights to scan the side of the house, windows and back yard. Dispatch informs the Super of a 911 call coming from that exact neighborhood. The Super laughs as he replies, “Let me guess, it is house number XXX and a kid is calling about possible intruders?” Yep!
When he finally comes to the door wearing only pajama bottoms, he looks startled at the sight of two police officers. He must have thought they were magicians since he had only called for help a minute earlier.
I guess the mother will be happy no party was happening. The son will probably yell at her for not trusting him (assuming she doesn’t discover the tryst). And Amherst PD got to be private security and babysitter all in the same call. Taxpayers should send Mom a bill.
The Super mentions the “Open container By-Law” is exceedingly effective because they can arrest anybody on the spot for public drinking. As crowds gather police can pick a few of the boisterous ringleader tough guys and cart them away--sending a clear message to the remaining crowd.
A house on lower Main Street fits the bill as perhaps 100 young folks spill off the front porch onto the front lawn with loud music blaring and everybody drinking. We had passed it earlier in the evening and the Super said confidently “We’ll be there before the night is out.”
Sure enough around 1:00 AM neighbors called to complain about the ruckus. Five patrol cars respond (leaving the rest of town protected by just one) and Amherst PD goes into crowd control mode. They move quickly and confidently among the crowd barking short direct orders: “Party’s over!" or "Go home!”. The kids pretty much don’t know what hit them.
It helped that the party host was standing on the porch bellowing, “Everybody get out of here!”
This time Police were only outnumbered 20-1 by the boisterous drunken crowd. It’s those nights when they are outnumbered 100-1 when things can get hairy.
The Amherst PD blog reports, “The most frequently committed violent crime in the United States is drunk driving.” Fortunately these kids seemed to be walking (staggering) back to their apartments.
And since I repeatedly heard the word “graduation,” I assume most of these partiers were Umass students. During my entire 9:00 PM – 3:00 AM shift I did not see a single Umass patrol car (or State Police for that matter.)
And if APD did get into trouble at that party scene, the Super could not even directly communicate with UMPD. He would have to radio dispatch and have them call Umass for assistance.
Meanwhile back in town center we pull over in the very public parking lot between Charlie’s and Bertucci’s and the Super bellows out his window “You gotta be kiddin me!?” while directing a spotlight on a youth in a Red Sox t-shirt urinating against a parking meter who slurs something about “just graduating”.
The Super responds “Do you want to start your job search with an arrest for indecent exposure?” “No sir” he quickly responds and then apologizes profusely. Earlier in the evening the Super had suggested that if Amherst passed a Public Urination By-law with a $200 fine the town could make a fortune.
Before the night is out we counted up $1,400 in violations.
A call just past 2:00 AM also involved alcohol. A neighbor in North Amherst on a very busy street complained a party getting out of hand. As we pull up, directly in the middle of the main road, the remains of a rather large 40oz beer bottle.
The Super is not pleased. He bounds out of the car and heads around to the back of the house where another officer is already knocking on the door. A 20-something kid answers and almost before he can say anything the Super says “I want to show you something: follow me!”
The kid almost starts to tremble at the sight of the mound of broken glass. “I… didn’t…do…that!” he stutters. “Well go back in your house and find the one who did and clean it up now,” barks the Super. “Yes, sir” he responds sheepishly
Driving back to town center past just 2:30 with all the bars and Antonio’s closed things are quiet to the point of dead. We get a call that a PVTA bus driver is in a confrontation with a passenger over money.
They are in the center of town the driver said a 20-something Hispanic youth dressed like a hip hop singer had flagged him down (the bus was empty heading back to Umass). The kid was obviously drunk and tells the Super he does not have the $1.25 fare to Northampton but would repay it tomorrow.
The Super responds: “No money, no ride.” The bus driver responds, “I don’t want to smell your breath all the way to Northampton.” And of course I’m thinking that one passenger on a huge PVTA bus paying $1.25 for that 7-mile ride, is not exactly big business.
The youth starts to stagger towards Amherst center. Then turns around and says, “Northampton is this way?” The Super responds: “No, that a way” and points in the opposite direction.
And so ended my night shift. The distant storm that generated heat lightening dancing across the northern sky now briefly produced rain, an Amherst cop’s best friend, but only for a moment or two. By then the crowds had dissipated.
I witnessed a police department comprised of men and women who all toil as a team. In every incident mentioned --and a few I skipped--nobody ever called for back up, but another patrol car almost always instantly appeared.
APD is also made up (48 total) of a unique upper-echelon of highly trained, very experienced, dedicated officers and newcomers who are eager, in shape, respectful of their supervisors and the general public they serve.
Folks like Chief Charlie Scherpa, after 40 years of exemplary service, are almost impossible to replace. Nobody knows this unique town better than officers who have served and protected Amherst for many, many years.
Let’s hope the local civilian committee to select a new Chief takes that into consideration.
And yet the state will defund the Quinn Bill?!