Watchdog turns bulldog
6 June, 2008
by Gavin Bertram
STUDENT groups are questioning whether an Otago University private security force is overstepping the mark.
The Otago University Students Association and the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Legislation (Norml) are both raising concerns about Campus Watch activities.
Campus Watch was introduced in February 2007. Members act as â€œwalking information boothsâ€, the universityâ€™s website says.
It is run by the Proctorâ€™s Office, which is responsible for student discipline and took over all campus security in August 2007.
OUSA president Simon Wilson says heâ€™s held concerns about the approach and attitude of Campus Watch for some time.
Campus police Constable Max Holt defends Campus Watch: â€œI cannot understand how people can view them in a bad light. Theyâ€™re doing nothing but good work to ensure the student area is safe for students and staff.â€
Wilson says the group was initially promoted as a friendly face on campus.
â€œIt was initially sold to students as a pastoral care kind of role, and there are concerns that itâ€™s moved beyond that.â€
Wilson says heâ€™s heard of intimidation and spying by Campus Watch off campus.
Norml led a protest march of about 120 students and supporters on May 28 to highlight its concerns about Campus Watch after student Logan Anderson was arrested on campus and charged with cannabis possession.
Norml spokesman Abe Gray believes Campus Watch overstepped its brief by playing a key role in Andersonâ€™s arrest.
â€œCampus Watch have said they donâ€™t have enough resources.
â€œBut what little precious resources they have they are diverting to watching and waiting until somebody smokes weed. Theyâ€™ve been totally unaccountable and havenâ€™t actually been helping â€“ theyâ€™ve been hurting,â€ says Gray.
History student Logan Anderson, 21, says he was arrested after a member of Campus Watch spotted him smoking a pipe with friends on May 26 next to the Union lawn.Students associated with Norml have regularly smoked cannabis on campus for four years without police action.
Anderson says the arrest has derailed his exam preparation. He entered no plea when he appeared in the Dunedin District Court last week and is scheduled to appear again on Thursday.
Students spoken to by D Scene are divided â€“ some praise Campus Watch, saying the group is friendly, while others criticise it.
In a statement following the protest, university student services director David Richardson defended Campus Watch.
â€œThe vast majority of students recognise the campus and surrounding environments are safer for their presence.
â€œThe law clearly states that cannabis is illegal.â€