AMHERST, Mass. — An early St. Patrick’s Day celebration around the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus known as ‘‘Blarney Blowout’’ spun out of control Saturday as police officers in riot gear arrested more than 40 people while dispersing massive crowds, including unruly students throwing beer cans and bottles.
Forty-four people were arrested by late Saturday afternoon and four officers suffered minor injuries after police spent the day attempting to disperse ‘‘several’’ crowds of more than 1,500 students, said Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen. Gundersen said that police were on-call preparing to deal with the possibility of more trouble Saturday night.
‘‘It is extremely disturbing and unsafe. Perhaps one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness,’’ Gundersen told The Republican. ‘‘It is extremely upsetting. It is very dangerous.’’
Most of the arrests came at an off-campus apartment complex, where large crowds began gathering Saturday morning for the annual event, which was started by bars to allow the students to celebrate the holiday before their spring break begins this week. Gundersen said that there were no arrests or problems reported at the downtown bars as of early Saturday night.
Police from the city, university and state troopers in riot gear converged on the crowds around noon. The Republican in Springfield reported that the police began to march toward the crowd firing paintball-style guns loaded with pepper spray after students began setting off fireworks.
Three officers were hurt when they were hit by bottles and one was injured while attempting to make an arrest, Gundersen said. None of the injuries required serious treatment.
After police arrested several people at last year’s ‘‘Blarney Blowout,’’ the university warned students earlier this week that police would have an increased presence around town Saturday. Letters were also sent directly to students disciplined in the last year for alcohol-related misconduct.
UMass denounced the ‘‘unruly behavior’’ Saturday and spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said students who were arrested will be reviewed under the school’s code of conduct and that sanctions could include suspension or expulsion.
Amherst Capt. Christopher Pronovost described the day as ‘‘mayhem’’ to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
‘‘This can’t be in any way, shape or form be characterized as a party,’’ he said. ‘‘This is destruction of property (and) assaultive behavior.’’
Collecting bottles and cans around the scene of the mayhem Saturday night, Amherst resident Raul Colon told the Gazette that the day’s events looked like ‘‘a revolution, like in the countries that have revolutions between the students and the government.’’
Gundersen said that numerous participants in the revelry were also injured.
She said that most of the people arrested as of 4 p.m. Saturday were being charged with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct.
Colleges across the country go on high alert around St. Patrick’s Day to deal with alcohol-fueled students. At Penn State, the school paid licensed liquor establishments to stay closed this month during the unofficial drinking holiday known as State Patty’s Day for the second year in a row.
State College police Chief Tom King said that the strategy, along with a fraternity ban on parties, helped lead to a 75 decrease in arrests and citations this year compared to 2011 — the fake holiday’s heyday.