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Amherst police union calls for adding staff

AMHERST — The union representing supervisors at the Amherst Police Department wants increased staffing to ensure the safety of residents and claims that town administrators have ignored the request.

Amherst Police Supervisors Union President Sgt. Gabriel Ting in a statement issued Monday said the union “has serious concerns we choose to share with the community.”

He added, “For several years, and increasingly so, since the large-scale disturbance known as Blarney Blowout five months ago, Amherst Police Department officers have voiced their concerns to the town administrators relative to inadequate police staffing. These concerns have been ignored. Currently, there are no immediate or long-term plans to adequately staff the Amherst Police Department. With the continued growth of the town and expansion of the University of Massachusetts, the union has serious concerns on sufficiently handling calls for service, emergencies, and future large-scale disturbances such as the Blarney Blowout or the Hobart Hoedown.”

Town Manager John Musante and Select Board Chairman Aaron Hayden could not be reached for comment Monday night.

Ting’s statement cites the growth of enrollment at the University of Massachusetts and a campus master plan that recommends adding more students. UMass undergraduate enrollment has grown by about 5 percent since 2009 and is now at 20,600.

The Police Department’s staffing peaked in 1997 with 52 officers. It now has 47 officers.

“These officers are being asked to perform more with fewer resources, which are coming at a cost to both the officers and the citizens of the Amherst who deserve better,” according to Ting’s statement. “The lack of staffing is pushing our personnel beyond their capabilities, and more importantly, creating a safety issue as response to emergency and medical calls can be greatly delayed due to staffing reductions.”

Musante has put police positions near the top of his annual priority list to restore jobs previously eliminated and has told police that if a regional dispatch center with Hadley and Pelham moves forward, the savings will be used to hire a police officer to work a downtown beat.

Under Police Chief Scott Livingstone, the department has used sector-based policing as a way to deploy the officers in a more efficient manner.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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