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Former police commissioner to examine UMass party culture

Police detained a participant in the pre-St. Patrick's Day "Blarney Blowout" near the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.

Robert Rizzuto/The Republican, via AP

Police detained a participant in the pre-St. Patrick's Day "Blarney Blowout" near the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass.

Former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis will review how the University of Massachusetts Amherst and local police handled an unruly St. Patrick’s Day party last weekend and develop plans to prevent future disturbances, the college announced Thursday.

The massive off-campus bash, known as the Blarney Blowout, led to 55 arrests and cast a harsh light on the state’s flagship university. University officials have asked Davis, who oversaw the police response to several championship celebrations in Boston, to take a broad look at several rowdy parties that have frustrated college administrators, many students, and Amherst town officials.

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Davis said he will review crowd-control practices used by other cities and universities to develop plans to handle large celebrations at UMass.

“The one thing we know about these incidents is that they will happen again” unless changes are made, Davis said. He expects the review to take two months.

University officials have condemned the disruptive behavior, while students have accused Amherst police of being overly aggressive in breaking up the large crowds.

Police have defended their response, saying students refused to disperse and pelted officers with bottles and full beer cans. Four officers had minor injuries. Police responded in riot gear and used pepper spray and sting balls to control what they described as “dangerous and assaultive” disturbances.

Davis, who has been working as a private security analyst since stepping down as commissioner last fall, said the university and Amherst police both welcomed the review. He said he had not drawn any conclusions as to whether police responded appropriately.

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Kumble Subbaswamy, the chancellor of UMass Amherst, said administrators had warned students about drunken behavior before the Saturday party, an annual event that draws students from many other schools, and were dismayed by the unruly crowds.

“Everyone acknowledges that we have done about everything we can as an administration on an education front,” he said Thursday. “We have to take a new approach.”

Subbaswamy said a group of students, faculty, and staff will work to develop plans to discourage unruly behavior and binge drinking on campuses.

He said he expects town leaders to cooperate fully with the review. “The town doesn’t want this kind of thing to happen and certainly the campus doesn’t,” he said. “We have common cause.”

Of the 55 people arrested, 21 attended UMass Amherst, authorities have said. There were a dozen arrests for inciting a riot or disorderly conduct, 19 for failing to disperse from a riot, and 17 for alcohol violations.

Subbaswamy said the drunken behavior “brought shame on our fine university.” It marked at least the third straight year that the party had spun out of control. Last year, several students were hospitalized, and six were arrested. In 2012, police encountered a large number of drunken students downtown, where some fights had broken out.

Last Saturday, the parties began around 10 a.m., when several thousand people gathered at an apartment complex near the campus. Police said they broke up the party after several fights broke out, but students gravitated to another courtyard, where some were damaging vehicles and destroying light poles.

Megan Kingston, a student trustee, welcomed the review of what she called a “multifaceted problem” on many campuses.

“I don’t think this is strictly a UMass problem,” she said.

Kingston said she had heard alarming allegations of aggressive police behavior and hoped the review would cast a critical eye on how Amherst police handled the situation.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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