It’s an unusual request from police: more pubs.
But officers in a South Island city renowned for student recklessness and couch burning say they wish more drinking holes would open, as it helps them manage the revellers.
Dunedin is known for its student lifestyle, cheap rents, wild street parties and hedonistic vibe, associated with the 20,000 students who attend the country’s oldest university, Otago.
With the new semester nearly underway students are descending on the city in their thousands, which usually spells disaster for police and emergency services. The season has become known for stampedes and riots, and spikes in hospital admissions for injuries and alcohol poisoning.
“There are literally 20,000 students having the time of their lives,” vice-chancellor Harley Hanes told RNZ. “All the university tries to do is keep body and soul together while these young people are taking their final steps to adulthood.”
Despite a dip in couch burning incidents – down from 250 in 2010 to 13 last year – police say more needs to be done to manage out-of-control student behaviour – and the introduction of more pubs would help.
Sergeant Ian Paulin, an alcohol harm reduction officer, told RNZ more pubs would help manage the risks associated with student binge drinking by bringing it out of the shadows.
“What would really help us if we had a couple of large-capacity licensed premises that students could drink in, they would love that and we would get them in a controlled environment,” Paulin said.
“But until we have a change in the price differential between an off-licence and an on-licence it probably won’t happen.”
In a pub or bar a glass of wine costs between NZ$7-15 (£3.50-£8), while in a supermarket an entire bottle can retail for as little as NZ$7 – an attractive option for cash-poor students, who often live on less than NZ$250 a week.
Over the past five years several student pubs have closed in north Dunedin as students eschew high prices for cheaper and faster alcohol consumption at home in their student flats.
Hospital workers have said “pre-loading” leads to more cases of alcohol poisoning and injuries, and more arrivals at the emergency department.
Paulin told RNZ that his officers were taking a softer stance on managing street parties as it was safer for students to be outside than crammed into small spaces in old houses, were stampedes could occur.
In September last year the student pub Starters successfully lobbied the council to allow it to stay open til 3am several nights a week, arguing the pub was safer for its clientele than their crowded flats, with no supervision from sober adults.
The bar is owned and run by Otago University Students’ Association.
“It’s a very special case,” district licensing committee chairman Colin Weatherall told the ODT. “It’s the only establishment in that part of town that caters specifically for students.”