Students blame authorities

Police officers move revellers off Castle St, Dunedin, where about 300 people gathered around two couch fires on Saturday night. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Police officers move revellers off Castle St, Dunedin, where about 300 people gathered around two couch fires on Saturday night. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Drunken disorder in the student quarter is being exacerbated by police and council intervention, university students and Castle St residents say, citing a Saturday night incident as a classic example.

At least one private Castle St party was shut down by a Dunedin City Council noise control officer about 10pm, forcing people out of the flat, on to the street.

About 300 people had gathered on the street by 11pm, when four Dunedin firefighters arrived in an appliance to extinguish two couch fires.

The size of the crowd prompted them to call for a back-up appliance and crew from Roslyn, as well as for police attendance.

At the same time, four Willowbank firefighters in an appliance were called to a Dundas St mattress fire.

They were finished in time to respond as back-up in Castle St, so the Roslyn crew was stood down, then immediately called out to back up a St Kilda crew, attending a fire in Harrow St.

In total, seven furniture fires were extinguished in the student area on Saturday night.

More than a dozen police officers, including a dog handler and two paddy wagon crews, arrived in Castle St to disperse the crowd about midnight.

About 10 officers formed a line and marched people down Howe and Castle Sts, while others blocked alternative exits.

An ''idiot'' threw a bottle at a firefighter, but otherwise people were co-operative, Acting Senior Sergeant Ed Baker said. No arrests were made.

There had been private parties in the area and people had gathered on the street ''waiting for something to happen'', he said.

It took some time for police resources to be mustered and when officers arrived at midnight the crowd was down to about 100. It was ''just another Saturday night in Castle St'', he said.

The Otago Daily Times yesterday spoke to about 20 Castle St residents, mostly second-year University of Otago students.

Almost all said couch fires and street disorder were the result of private parties being shut down and people forced out of flats.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, they looked for furniture to burn and often felt resentment towards authorities for closing parties.

If people were allowed to stay in flats, they would not venture en masse into the street and disorder would be curtailed, the students said.

They felt police officers were being more heavy-handed, shutting down parties earlier and responding to incidents with more force.

''Cops never used to shut down a house party at 11pm. When they do, that's when it ends up going bad because everyone moves on to the street,'' a second-year student said.

He felt safer drinking in the student quarter, where everyone was a ''friend of a friend'' than in central Dunedin, with strangers.

Another second-year student said she thought Saturday night was ''mellow'' and at no point got out of hand.

She and her flatmates hosted a party before Orientation, which went until 4am, and because people were not forced into the street there was no disorder.

Acting Snr Sgt Baker said there was ''no excuse for disorder on the street''.

''If students can keep their activities to within their properties, without interfering on the rights of other people living nearby, and without lighting fires which endanger properties, then there is no issue.''

On most occasions, police warned party hosts before shutting down events, and nine out of 10 complaints to police about out-of-control parties were by the hosts themselves, he said.

''I don't think what happened on Saturday was a result of parties being closed down. It was an orderly dispersal of a crowd; there were no batons or force used.''

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said if people's behaviour on private property was excessive and had to be curtailed, it made no sense for them to assume such behaviour in public was acceptable.

Parties were shut down for a reason and students had the same rights - and responsibilities - as all Dunedin residents, Mr Cull said.

''They have to respect the community in which they live. If any other group of people had an excessively noisy or exuberant party which had to be shut down, they wouldn't feel justified in acting up in the street.''

Willowbank senior station officer Grant Clarkson said when firefighters attended incidents where there was a large crowd, police were usually called as a precaution.

''You just can't tell which way it's going to go these days. It only takes one person to act like an idiot.

''There's always a bit of worry and pressure on you, so you just try to cover your back, as best as you can.''


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