Police will take a hard line with those involved in
lighting couch fires in the student quarter, after a spike in
call-outs last month.
Police, the Fire Service, the University of Otago and the
Otago Regional Council met to discuss recent couch fires and
disorder in the North Dunedin area.
As a result of that meeting, police will no longer be
offering diversion or pre-charge warnings to those found
lighting fires in the area.
Instead, culprits ''will be off to court'', police tactical
co-ordinator Sergeant Dave Scott, of Dunedin, said yesterday.
That decision was prompted by an incident in the student
quarter last week, when two young men jumped off a fire
engine which had been called to extinguish a couch fire.
The fire truck was also surrounded by a large group of
revellers and bottles were thrown, prompting the Fire Service
to call a meeting about the disorder.
Fire Service East Otago Area manager Laurence Vight said he
called for the meeting after concerns for the ''safety and
wellbeing not only of my personnel but also of those
participating in these activities''.
At that meeting, all four organisations agreed to a
''zero-tolerance'' policy on such behaviour.
Statistics for the month of February had shown a gradual
decline in couch fires in the campus area, with 10 in
February 2010, but last month that number had increased to
''Couch fires can be very dangerous. We have had incidents in
the past where bystanders have been pushed into them and been
seriously burned. There is also the possibility of the
material involved setting fire to nearby property and that
developing into a large-scale incident,'' he said.
''Another issue is that of the residual damage to our roads
and amenities from these incidents.''
The two men who jumped off the Willowbank fire engine had
been given a pre-charge warning by police and also referred
to the proctor, Sgt Scott said.
However, from this week, anyone caught interfering with an
emergency services vehicle would no longer be offered
pre-charge warnings, and would instead be either given
diversion or charged.
''We will treat it a lot more serious than it has been ...
Historically, we would have used a pre-charge warning ... but
we won't anymore.''
While it was often difficult to determine who lit fires or
caused disorder during an emergency services call-out, after
inquiries police were often able to find the culprits
involved, Sgt Scott said.
The campus constable had charged some non-students for
lighting fires in the campus area a couple of weeks ago, he
In addition, police patrols and Campus Watch were on the
lookout for any signs of disorder.
''There are lots of eyes and ears out there.''
Sgt Scott stressed it was not just students who were involved
in such activity, and he had a warning for anyone
''We want them to know if you set fire to something, you are
going to pay a consequence and it won't just be a slap on the
hand with a wet bus ticket.''
He reminded residents of the area that ''it is not a rite of
passage for students of Dunedin to come here and burn a
University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne said
the university always treated such matters seriously ''and we
will maintain our zero-tolerance policy with respect to
The university's annual discipline report shows 15 cases were
referred to the vice-chancellor by the provost in 2012.
Of those cases, seven involved fire-related incidents.
''We will continue to be proactive, as will the police and
Fire Service, because everyone's goal here is exactly the
same, and that is to keep the students and the rest of the
Dunedin community safe.''