Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A night on the town

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?!


Anonymous said...

Outstanding Job.. excellant blog.. god bless the men and women who do this job.. and god bless america!

dominique said...

Ditto the previous comment!

LarryK4 said...

Thanks! I'm going to do it again in early September--maybe Labor Day Weekend. .

Also would love to do a ride along with AFD, but fires are like tornados--almost impossible to predict.

As well as some winter night during a blizzard (that usually come with some degree of warning) a ride along with a DPW snowplow.

And my ultimate goal: hitching a ride on one of those majestic warbirds the F-15's that streak over Amherst every Thursday.

Okay, okay I'll settle for on of those WAY slower--but just as loud--C-5A's.

Anonymous said...

Nice job. I'd have to disagree with the comment about the cops as private security. If this happens with the woman alot, yeah it's private security on our dime, but as you tell it, it sounds like just asking the police to keep an eye out for what could be trouble. More of a small-town gesture that shows the small-town-ness that still exists in amherst in some ways.

LarryK4 said...

For sure.

But she called back the next day and "reported" a party going on and APD responded with 2 cars and there was no party, so it kind of makes that a "false report."

Amherst recently enacted a By-Law to fine businesses that are hooked into APD with burgler alarm systems that tend to send 'False Alarms'.

The first one or two are okay (written warnings) but after that you repay the taxpayers via a fine

Thus giving those businesses an incentive to update to new and better technology that does not issue false alarms.

Anonymous said...

90+ mph huh. sounds like a VERY irresponsible act on mr supervisors part. especially with a civilian in the car.

it is my understanding that even cops are not allowed to speed... and it seems totally unnecssary for a domestic disturbance report, and basically " lose your license speed".

hyp-cop-rich at it's worst. I bet you guys just got done tokin a fatty!

the nitwit

Anonymous said...

damn mobile phone word correct!

should read


LarryK4 said...

I'm glad you know you're a Nitwit.

LarryK4 said...

And why do I just know that an asshole like you was texting that Nitwit message while driving...

Anonymous said...

haha I knew that would git yer goat...so predictable.

actually it was a fatty in one hand, the mobile in the other, steering with my knees, and the hooker in the passenger seat providing a happy ending. of course the speedometer was pegged! driving through campus ignoring the crosswalks.

at least the boys know me and haven't given me the pinch in10+ years.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, try that off-campus and see what happens.

Anonymous said...

I think Mr Nitwit is right - 90 mph on Main Street is irresponsible and dangerous. I am guessing that he was only going 50 but, Larry was exaggerating to make it more exciting.

LarryK4 said...

I'm glad you agree he's a Nitwit.

Next time to keep the squeamish happy I'll just use the term "fast."

Anonymous said...

you act like 90 is somehow valid or justifiable.

please validate.

oh that's right, you can't, but the narcissist doesn't care about the unknowing driver or pedestrian who may have gotten in front of the idiot speeder....after all they probably are 5 generations deep.

Anonymous said...

whoops....."are not"

LarryK4 said...

Have you ever been repeatedly punched in the face Nitwit?

Because when a cop hears a call for possible "domestic abuse" that is exactly what runs thru their mind: A drunk guy wailing on his girlfriend.

The faster they can arrive the quicker the violence stops--and if they only prevent one last punch from landing...

Well as I said: ever been punched in the face?

(It was also well after 1:00 AM and along that stretch I saw not a single pedestrian.)

LarryK4 said...

And if I wrote that we went up Main Street at 50 mph in response to a "domestic abuse" call some Nitwit would respond:

Gee, why didn't you go faster? He's a highly-trained officer, very fit with excellent reflexes and a specially equipped vehicle (built for speed and stability)with blue lights flashing.

Anonymous said...

Murder investigation? Nope. Drug cartel busted? Nope. Rampaging motorcycle gang run out of town? Nope.

Oh, well. A broken bottle, someone intoxicated, a teen party that did not happen. This is still just as fascinating, please write more. I hope you write a book about this. It's simply amazing. 27 square miles of territory to cover. Awesome. Why that's 5.2 whole miles by 5.2 miles. It stretches from Hadley to Belchertown line. Unbelievable. They do it in cars? Wow! How do they handle it all? And, they are all professionals. Incredible. Trained professionals? Even better. Wow, maybe they should be paid. Oh, they are? I guess they better be professional then. Anyway, please gush on. Maybe in the winter you could ride with the snowplow guys. I hear they drive in bad weather. It's amazing!

LarryK4 said...

Glad you liked it Nitwit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Larry,

I agree with most of your investigations. But I have to side with the nitwits this time. 90 mph is not a safe way to get to an emergency it not only puts the cop, yourself, but the general public in harms way as well. That is excactly why they are suppose to break off in high speed chases. Vision what would happen if speed racer (aka APD) had misjudged a turn or bump in the road, or someone not paying attention pulled out in front of the cruiser. Now you have potentially (3) fatalities kinda counter productive to helping the person in the domestic situaion wouldn't you say? I'd be willing to bet you couldn't get that officer to testify togoing 90 mph through the center just for those reasons. I'd even go further and bet they would say they were going 50 kph and you mis-read the speedo. As a youth I street raced that fast on a regular basis and will tell you you would have been crapping yourself if you were going that fast through the center.

Just my opinion and not ment to offend, so please save any hostile responses (I won't be rattled or retort).

Best Regards,

A Blue Collar Worker

LarryK4 said...

Hmmm...and I'm supposed to know you're not the same Anon who comes here every day simply to bother me exactly how?

Anonymous said...

90 mph? I doubt it. You would rarely hit 90 mph on patrol on a stretch of highway. No officer would drive that fast in the center of a town. 50 is more likely. Of couse, far be it for Larry to admit he exagerated a good bit.

LarryK4 said...

Actually did not go to the center of town. Took a right at the light just before Miss Emily's.

Far be it for an Anon to leave his name.

Anonymous said...

Second-guessing the speed at which police traveled to a domestic disturbance? Which could be a man beating his significant other to death?

We have residents who live in La-la Land, located somewhere along de Nile. So the cops compensate for their understaffing by driving around and around the block, hoping that that will look (to our drunken students) like a lot of cars.

Amherst: the town in which every person is THE smartest person in town.

Anonymous said...

sorry,I don't live in Amherst, and I think 90+ is outrageous for someone trying to maintain peace and safety.

I don't think larry exagerated at all. why would he create a lie that would put the integrity of a cop on the line?

and larry, I am the antagonist in this post, but haven't chimed in in months. you should think more highly of yourself, that many anons come in here to remind you of your narcicism.

LarryK4 said...

Thanks for stopping by (if only every couple months.)

Indeed, I have always measured myself by my enemies. Although I'm not sure Anon's count for much.

Anonymous said...


That explains everything!! Larry measures himself by his enemies. Hence the need to make enemies... More enemies = more measure.

Anonymous said...

"That explains everything!! Larry measures himself by his enemies. Hence the need to make enemies... More enemies = more measure."

Uh, he means quality in this case, not quantity, stupid...

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I'm actually jealous of my compatriot Catherine A. Sanderson these days.

Anonymous said...

This is a town with a two street downtown.

Anonymous said...

I guess after this "exemplary" post someone is going to have a free pass on speeding through Amherst...

LarryK4 said...

I've had that for a long, long time now Nitwit.