Massachusetts : Safety by City
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It’s poetic to think that without the literary works that came from Amherst, Massachusetts, I might not have been able to write this article, and you might not be able to read it – at least not by modern methods.
Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Melvil Dewey, and Noah Webster – provided the world with everything from the dictionary to some of the best poems in American history.
As a writer, researching this city touched my soul.
Amherst sits just 30 miles northwest of Springfield, the third-largest city in Massachusetts, located in the south-central portion of the commonwealth (state).
Amherst is known as the “Knowledge Corridor” in the Pioneer valley.
Outside the city of Springfield, small towns like Amherst bring a unique and idyllic essence to this region.
Another bonus for travelers is the good number of hotels and inns available in this community of 39,000.
They are just 10 minutes from the interstate but also far enough away not to deal with the noise.
Amherst is pronounced, “Am-erst.”
Even the Hampshire County tourism website tells you to “Drop the H.”
Warnings & Dangers in Amherst
OVERALL RISK : LOW
With a violent crime rate less than half the national average, there's a low risk here and many things to do in safe spaces to keep you busy. I doubled checked the theft rate because it seemed too low to be real, but there's another safe category for this liberal and literary hamlet.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Pioneer Valley Transit is an extensive public transportation system that goes as far north as South Deerfield and south to the Connecticut state line. The western boundary is Williamsburg, and the eastern edge is Belchertown. Taxis aren't available in Amherst, but rideshares Uber and Lyft are popular in this college town. Rental cars are a great way to explore this wilderness region and "The Berkshires." Bike rentals are available to explore Amherst on two wheels.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Just two pickpockets were reported in 2021, with one of those being a purse snatching. The theft risk is low overall, but you should worry more about your vehicle than your wallet. A surge of car break-ins was reported at the end of 2022.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Winter storms are the biggest challenge here, but it won't be surprising for those used to snow storms and blizzards. Summers can bring severe thunderstorms and slight tornado potential. Wildfires, extreme drought that prompts water conservation, and remnants of tropical storms or hurricanes can also impact this region.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Just one robbery was reported in 2021, and that was at a home, giving this a low risk. Nearby Springfield has a much higher robbery rate coming in at nearly three times the national average.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
The risk is low here since it's a rural region of small towns surrounding Springfield. The most likely target in Massachusetts would be Boston, but Homeland Security warns in 2023, and beyond that Lone Wolf acts can happen anywhere. The Terrorism Advisory System is a great resource to check threats before you arrive.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Amherst has been hit by an evolving scam I've seen in many cities. This is when a scammer posts fake social media listings for garments bearing the police logo, generally saturating sites after a major police success. Credit card skimmers at gas stations are also a risk. Learn the basics of identifying a card skimmer or always go inside to pay for gas.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Please take this as informative and not alarmist, but with 27 sexual assaults in this small town, that's 55% higher than the national average. I'm not sure that I've seen a city where the sexual assaults are so much higher than the robbery rate. There were almost as many sexual assaults as burglaries and aggravated assaults. I would just recommend using caution when meeting new people or drinking at local pubs. The city has a web section with information about getting help after a sexual assault or how to report incidents, even if you were a bystander of suspicious activity. Please look out for each other, ladies.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
In the detailed but easy-to-read 2021 Water Quality Report, all water met or exceeded standards, and the utility incurred no violations. Check the "Water Supply Status" on the city's website before you visit, as this region is in an ongoing drought.
Safest Places to Visit in Amherst
GreaterAmherst.com should be bookmarked as it’s updated often with new events and attractions.
VisitHampshireCounty.com is the official tourism website for this region, but that doesn’t include Springfield, which is in Hampden County.
ExploreWesternMass.com covers Springfield and the region, including some Amherst locations.
Bershires.org explores the possibilities across this section of the state… err… commonwealth.
The Amherst city website also has a visitors section with some attractions more focused on getting a lay of the land.
Remember that Amherst and the immediate area have more than two dozen colleges or universities.
This includes Amherst College, a private college, and UMass Amherst, the largest public research university in New England.
Many of the museums to visit here will be on campus, which are open to the public.
Amherst College Museums:
- Emily Dickinson Museum: If you don’t know much about her life in Amherst, it’s actually quite fascinating. Closed each year between December 24 and March 1.
- Mead Art Museum: Free admission.
- Beneski Museum of Natural History: Three floors with more than 1,700 artifacts.
- Eli Marsh Gallery: Student and facility art displays.
- Russian Art Gallery
- Wilder Observatory: Open after 9:00 pm on clear-skied Saturdays between April and October.
UMass Amherst has two art galleries, the University Museum of Contemporary Art and the Louis and Hilda Greenbaum Gallery.
The Amherst History Museum offers a walk through the city’s evolution since its settlement in 1759.
A “History Bites” lunch series is held starting in March of each year, but check the schedule in case the frequency changes.
The museum closes in the winter but reopens each May.
Pick up the 42-page guidebook to the Dickinson Historic District with walking tour maps and intimate stories of the legendary people who once lived here.
Amherst has nine National Historic Registry Districts.
AmherstDowntown.com offers an expansive view of North and South Pleasant Street’s art, cuisine, and culture.
Live performances are available throughout the year, and an independent movie theater is also at the center of it all.
The Drake is the best place to see live music regularly.
Five miles south of Amherst College, you can visit the beautiful Mount Holyoke Range State Park spanning more than 3,000 acres.
A seven-mile ridgeline and 30 miles of maintained trails offer scenic views, wetlands, woods, and babbling brooks for your own outdoor ASMR experience.
Parking is free, which is a novelty for a Massachusetts park.
The Greater Amherst website has a full list of trails for all difficulty levels and the best scenic spots in the region.
Places to Avoid in Amherst
Amherst isn’t big enough to have a particular part of town to avoid, and even if it were big enough, there’s not enough crime to support the concern.
One of the biggest safety concerns involves walking or driving near universities, particularly along Massachusetts Avenue.
A student was killed and another seriously hurt within a month during the Spring of 2022.
Focused and detailed safety measures were implemented for pedestrians, with better signaling of crossings and lowered speed limits for drivers.
If you’re visiting this area during the spring or fall semester, please pay attention no matter which way you choose to get around.
As a college town, you’ll need a certain level of personal safety when enjoying the nightlife here.
Don’t take drinks from strangers; never let a friend walk home alone.
Let people know where you’re going as you barhop.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, go to the bartender and ask for an Angel Shot.
That signals that someone is bothering you, and the bar staff will take care of it.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Amherst
- The city of Amherst has its own police department. UMass Amherst and Amherst University also have their own police forces. You can get safety information on each department’s website, with updated crime statistics. You can always review the FBI Crime Data Explorer, which is a public website with the most recent annual crime statistics.
- The Amherst City Police Department has a great asset in its Data Dashboard, which is a work in progress as of this publication. It includes 911 call logs, traffic stop numbers, and arrest logs. Any question you can’t get answered there can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Amherst Alerts is an emergency and safety notification system with options to get text alerts or emails. This includes weather alerts, parking ban information, and major accidents. You can customize which alerts you wish to get.
- Why are parking bans such a big deal? During winter, the city will institute a parking ban when snow or ice accumulates. This means you can’t park on city streets to make room for the snow plows. Overnight parking is allowed in certain overnight lots and garages. Flashing blue intersection lights will also signal a parking ban is in effect. This is quite common in New England communities, so always have a backup winter parking plan.
- The ParkMobile app will help you find parking in Amherst and pay through your mobile device. Anytime you can pay for something without pulling out your wallet in a public place is ideal.
- The Transit app is a great way to get the schedule for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and track real-time bus routes. You can also set and save frequent routes and check crowdsourcing information about bus occupancy rates at any given time.
- Mass 511 is a great resource for those driving in Amherst and around the state. If you create an account, you can set specific routes and request traffic or construction alerts for the roadways. Live cameras are available to see road conditions in real-time.
- You can’t fish in Massachusetts without a license issued by the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Licenses can be purchased online. Hunting licenses are also available there, but the requirements are much stricter than a fishing license.
- Black bears live in this part of the state and can occasionally wander into the community. UMass Amherst saw a momma bear and three cubs wandering through in February 2022. Never feed a black bear or approach it, especially if cubs are present. The Massachusetts government website has a full list of safety guidelines under the heading “Black Bears in Massachusetts.”
- For more help planning your Amherst trip, look for the Visit Hampshire County app in the app stores. You’ll know you’re at the right app when you see the “Other Side” subtitle, as this region is known as the Other Side of Massachusetts.
So... How Safe Is Amherst Really?
Amherst is a safe, diverse, and inclusive community.
The violent crime rate is 56% lower than the national average, and the theft rate is five and a half times lower than the national average as of 2021.
As someone who locks my car even when it’s in my garage, I’m always amazed at the number of car break-ins and thefts that involve unlocked cars and keys left inside unlocked cars.
A rash of these break-ins fills crime blotters toward the end of 2022.
Car thefts are rising nationwide, so it’s smart to take all basic safety precautions to make your car as unappealing to thieves as possible.
Here are a few more crime statistics in Amherst:
- 29% of violent crimes are against strangers
- 60% of violent crimes happen in homes
- Women are 10% more likely to be the victim of a violent crime
The official FBI crime data for Amherst Police doesn’t include the police departments on the campuses.
The latest data from Amherst College is from 2020 but shows just one violent crime and nine property crimes.
UMass Amherst shows 13 violent crimes and 84 property crimes in 2021.
Keep in mind Amherst College has less than 2,000 students, while UMass has nearly 29,000.
Not all communities in this area will be as safe as Amherst, so keep that in mind when you’re planning travel.
Holyoke and West Springfield consistently rank among the most dangerous cities, and Springfield’s violent crime rate is two and a half times more than the national average.
A few more important Springfield crime statistics from 2021 are as follows:
- 36% of violent crimes are against strangers
- 28% of robberies are person-to-person on the street
- 47% of all thefts are car burglaries
- 41 people were pickpocketed in 2021
Bicycle thefts are common across the region, so always lock your bicycle when you’re not using it.
How Does Amherst Compare?
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- Visas - Tourist visas have been backlogged since 2020 in America, but the State Department implemented new steps in 2023 to speed up the process. Review all the details on the department's website and plan at least three months ahead of time.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use anywhere in New England. You'll get lower fees if you exchange currency at your home bank. Use credit cards over debit cards for purchases to get better fraud protection.
- Weather - The four seasons are quite distinct here, with fall bringing amazing opportunities to see foliage as it changes colors. Bring casual and comfortable clothing and comfortable walking shoes. Bug spray and sunscreen in the warmer months will be necessary, and winter visitors need thick coats, snow boots, and warm accessories.
- Airports - Amherst is actually closer to the Hartford, Connecticut airport (BDL) than the one in Boston. Boston's waterfront Logan International Airport is two hours away by car, and you can get to Hartford in an hour with less traffic.
- Travel Insurance - Since the weather can cause cancelations and delays across New England, travel insurance is a smart investment. You should also explore supplemental travel health insurance if your home healthcare plan doesn't cover international trips.
Amherst Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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