Baton-wielding police charged three times down a Dunedin street into a group of intoxicated bottle-throwing students as fires broke out around them on Saturday night.
Police arrested 30 people in the Castle St area, mainly for disorderly behaviour, where 13 fires broke out in under four hours, forcing a fire engine to remain stationed in the street.
Police point to a combination of reasons for the "disappointing behaviour" - the Undie 500 race, which brought 1000 people from Christchurch, fine weather, two rugby games and graduation.
But students said police went over the top. They asked why police went into houses and dragged people out on to the street.
Christchurch student Maggie Whiteley, 19, said the weekend when the Undie 500 went to Dunedin was known for chaos.
Dunedin area police controller Inspector Don Boyd said if ordinary Dunedin people were in the area on Saturday night they would have been shocked by what they saw.
"They are not bad kids but once they get liquored-up they just become different people," Mr Boyd said.
Police were called to the area about 7.30pm on Saturday and found a group of students spilling onto the street from houses. Fires were being lit at one end of Castle St and as soon as they were put out, another fire was lit at the other end of the street.
Mr Boyd said police had about 20 staff at the scene by 9pm and by 9.30pm decided to move through the street and try to move the people on. About 400 people were involved, Mr Boyd said, although those spoken to yesterday said at least 1000 people were in the area.
Police used 10 staff to form a line and did three sweeps down a Castle St block to escort students into the university area.
Mr Boyd said bottles were being thrown and fires lit but no one was injured.
"What usually happens is people start to disperse about 11pm and go into town. Just with the number of people coming along and watching we wanted them to leave earlier."
He said a group of about 150 people shaped up against the line of police and bottles were thrown.
"They were chanting moving up on the police and they had to be moved along. Most just walked away. It was a charade really.
"People are different today. Ten years ago, if a policeman told them to move along they would. Now people say why, why should I ?"
The crowd finally dispersed about 11pm, he said and "common sense prevailed".
He said it was not the worst incident he had seen in the student area but with student numbers increasing and the liberalisation of liquor laws, a few people could easily cause trouble.
He said police had 12 extra staff on for the weekend to cater for what was expected to be a busy time.
"But I think we had enough staff down there. More staff wouldn't have made any difference. Arresting more people wouldn't have made any difference. It's a wider issue than that."
Mr Boyd said the future of the Undie 500, where up to 1000 people travelled to Dunedin in old vehicles from Christchurch, had to be questioned. Though it was a well-run event with registered vehicles and sober drivers, the results from the event were excessive and were a concern for both the police and the community.
Undie 500 organiser Nick Bamford could not be contacted last night.
- OTAGO DAILY TIMES