Students protest against Campus Watch

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Students protest against Campus Watch

By Sarah Harvey on Wed, 28 May 2008 (around 6pm)
University of Otago | News: Dunedin

More than 100 (actually 400+) students gathered at the University of Otago this afternoon, vigorously protesting against the actions of Campus Watch officers.

The students marched through the campus to the office of proctor Simon Thompson and demanded he come downstairs. When he left through a back door, the protestors turned their attention to a group of police officers who had been organised for the event.

The group dispersed without incident after about an hour.

Abe Gray, president of the Otago branch of marijuana law reform group Norml, this week said Campus Watch officers were becoming the "Dunedin Gestapo".

"Campus Watch is not here to help students or to keep them safe. They are here to intimidate them and force them to fall in line or face punishment," Otago Norml said in an email to its supporters yesterday.

Campus Watch is a 24-hour seven-day-a-week operation using up to 50 officers. They have patrolled North Dunedin streets since February last year and are credited with reducing disorder.

However, Otago University Students Association president Simon Wilson said since Campus Watch had taken over the university's security services, it had stopped looking after students and started trying to trip them up.

"They are there to keep students in line. The original thinking behind Campus Watch was that they were a friendly group, giving students advice. Now, they are much more of an enforcement group."

There had been evidence of officers following students because they thought they were suspicious, or being overbearing in their dealing with students.

Mr Gray said Campus Watch officers had recently started "targeting and persecuting" students who smoked cannabis.

He said a male student was arrested for possessing cannabis on Monday after a Campus Watch officer alerted police. The student was "illegally searched", Mr Gray said, and found to have a pipe and cannabis in his pockets.

This followed another incident where a Campus Watch officer allegedly "harassed" a student studying in the main library because he had gone out to have a joint in his break.

"Campus Watch is not contributing positively to the university environment and they need to be sent a very strong message that these type of actions are unacceptable."

• For more coverage, see tomorrow's ODT.