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Amherst, UMass police chiefs seek to continue joint patrols despite challenges

AMHERST — Despite legal challenges, joint patrols involving officers from the University of Massachusetts and Amherst police departments are expected to continue next semester.

Both UMass Police Chief John Horvath and Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said they plan to resume the patrols in the spring, even though the logistics may change to comply with a court ruling and a legal challenge from a police union.

“A recent Eastern Hampshire District Court decision, independent of any police union action, will require the university and the town of Amherst to revisit the current language in the mutual aid agreement,” Horvath said.

Town Manager John Musante, who made the appeal for additional joint patrols in the spring, said both UMass and the town remain committed to continuing their partnership.

“The town and university’s collaboration and coordination has never been stronger on public safety matters,” Musante said.

Legal wrangle

The court ruling relates to a Sept. 8, 2012, arrest in which UMass Officer Jason Minich, in a marked cruiser, followed a speeding vehicle from North Pleasant Street passing through campus into downtown Amherst and later conducted field sobriety tests on the driver, Shannon McDonald of Hicksville, N.Y., who was arrested on a drunken driving charge. In his decision, Judge John M. Payne Jr. wrote that there was no legal basis for Minich to make the stop because he had only observed a civil motor vehicle infraction, not an arrestable offense.

Horvath said UMass police continue to support requests made by Amherst and Hadley police under the signed mutual aid agreements it has with both towns. And Livingstone said an agreement related to patrolling neighborhoods adjacent to the campus remains in place.

“It may need to get tweaked a little bit based on the district court decision,” Livingstone said.

Legal counsel for UMass and Amherst will review the judge’s decision, Livingstone said, but neither chief appears worried that combined efforts patrolling off-campus neighborhoods that are hot spots for parties and disturbances will end.

The joint patrols, which primarily take place during early fall and late spring weekends, began in October 2012 and typically run between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. most weekends. Two UMass officers work alongside two Amherst officers, in cruisers traveling through neighborhoods near campus, as well as patrolling on bicycle and foot.

Union challenge

The joint patrols have also been the subject of a challenge by the union representing UMass officers.

UMass patrol officer Brian Kellogg, president of New England Police Benevolent Association Local 190, said that being required to work joint patrols with Amherst police may violate the union’s contract.

Kellogg said that shortly after joint patrols were implemented, an unfair labor practice complaint was filed. The next step could be a hearing before a Department of Labor judge to determine the legality of the patrols.

Meanwhile, Horvath said he and Livingstone are discussing other ways the departments can work together.

“We will continue to collaborate on how to better provide police service that is in line with legal mandates, as well as challenges unique to the area,” Horvath said.

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