Campus Watch, Watched

Campus Watch, Watched

Campus Watch are the aunts and uncles of North D. They giggle at the antics of youths, make bad jokes and elbow you until you laugh along, and don’t hesitate to tell you when you’re being a dick – aggressively so if you’re caught throwing bottles. Campus Watch is 40 strong, split into five teams of eight: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo. Based out of the Proctor’s Office in St. Dave’s, they keep a careful eye on more than 900 CCTV cameras around campus. Campus Watch has been around since 2007 as the middleman between breathas and the cops, and over Flo and O Week, it’s been “all hands on deck at Castle St.” 

Every night of Flo, Critic Te Ārohi’s resident second-year breatha Sam was on the ground to review the week’s themes as they were intended to be experienced: drunk as a skunk. But it was Critic’s oldest and crustiest Nina (she/her) and Lotto (they/them) who donned the Campus Watch hi-vis and spent a painfully sober Saturday night on Castle St. eating pancakes and riding in the Vomit Comet (the security car). The beer goggles are off.

I message Lotto “what does this entail” at their suggestion we dress up for the frat theme, settling on a backwards cap and a flannel shirt after a panicked ‘frat boy’ Google. 

4:20pm (leshgo)
In the Critic office, I stare at a slab of Red Bulls and blink away the dregs of my afternoon nap.

Lotto and I are welcomed to the Proctor’s Office by Garry, an energetic Belfast bloke in his mid-fifties and the leader of the Delta team. It’s Delta team’s second swing shift: 5pm to 3am. In the Campus Watch break room upstairs, Garry introduces us to the team: Annabel, Steve, Dean (“Deano”), and another Steve. As we later find out, there are three Steves at Campus Watch, so we’ll call them Eel Steve (feeds the Leith eels cat food), Author Steve (adorably published a kid’s book after his granddaughter asked him to write her a story), and Ex-Cop Steve (we meet him later in the night). 

As I’m handed a mug of tea, I think to myself that it’s lucky we didn’t choose “not allowed in the Campus Watch tea room” as one of the new sticker slogans. Annabel offers me homemade oat and raisin cookies. “For energy,” she tells me, apologising for the paper stuck to the bottom. 

Garry briefs the team. He tells us that two kayaks were stolen from a car on Cumberland St. overnight and that Thirsty are hosting White Out tonight with their four thousand dollar sound system. As the team murmurs about the “absurd” amount of money, I discreetly slip the frat boy cap into my bag. The fuckers switched the theme. 

Lotto and I are told we’ll be in the security car first with Author Steve and Deano, something I’m grateful for after Garry tells me he’d typically walk 15km over an eight hour shift.

We’re still in the break room and I’m starting to feel woozy from how much caffeine I’ve downed. Eel Steve is talking affectionately about his Leith River buddies. They “have standards” when it comes to food, apparently, refusing broccoli, pasta, and (bizarrely) rotten possum.

Before heading out, we’re taken downstairs to kit up in hi-vis (hiding the now useless frat costume), and given a torch and a radio. Although we’re not allowed to share details after signing confidentiality agreements, we’re also shown the CCTV cameras in the control room that survey the tertiary sector to an alarming scale, including public streets. 

Leith St. is dead as fuck when we drive through. Boys preing at the Corner Store wave at the car from their balcony. Going past Castle St., I can see a small group of boys on a couple couches in front of Thirsty. 

A breatha pisses against the side of Dominoes, his urine glinting in the sunlight.

We join Garry and some police officers on Castle St. who are hanging out by the Uni Flats opposite Thirsty. Garry introduces us to Ivan (the ‘Can Man’). When we tell him we’re from Critic, he protests in a barely understandable murmur that he's been interviewed by the ODT and Stuff already. “That’s cool,” I say. He’s an 80-year-old man who has lived on Leith St his whole life, spending his spare time trash-picking cans in North D and wheelbarrowing them to South Dunedin for a bit of spare change. He’s also ‘adult’ media’s go-to for a disgruntled commenter on depraved student antics.

We end up at the intersection of Howe and Castle (a popular haunt for the vis-vests). Campus Cop John Woodhouse (“Woody”) is near a crowd of preing breathas at Adventure Time. I think I can hear Rihanna playing. Woody excuses himself to go tip a breatha out of a supermarket trolley his mate’s been pushing him around in, and gets a hug in return. 

Garry points out the red-brick flat opposite the Marsh where people are playing beer pong in the front yard. “They’re on their last legs with the Proctor already,” he says, telling us about incidents of bottling. I’m too shy to join the boys when he suggests Lotto and I rep Critic in a game against them.  

Lotto’s not feeling great by the time we circle via Leith St. to where the Red Frogs are setting up camp at the Dairy, and I’m left to tackle the rest of the night solo when we drop them home in the security car. 

Back at HQ, Ex-Cop Steve is briefing Team Charlie before their night shift starts, set to finish at 7am. As I put my tea mug in the dishwasher, I find a bowl that’s identical to one in my flat and wonder whether Critic staff stole one the last time they shadowed Campus Watch in 2018. 

The night’s still young, so I accept Clive and Angela’s offer of hopping in the Vomit Comet with them. “Gross, but pretty accurate, really,” Angela comments about the name. “It’s just one of those things when you drink a lot.” Angela is a past student, of which there are a lot in the team, and Clive is an ex-prison security guard. Estimating he’s about 6ft 4, it made sense.

The control room radios that two girls need to be driven home from Leith St. On our way to pick them up, Clive and Angela explain that besides rides home, car trips are typically either to the ED (“Let’s just say there’s a lot of alcohol poisoning going on at this university”) or to Maccas – the two pillars of the student experience.

It’s dark now, and there are more white-clad students around. “Not going to be so white at the end of the evening,” Angela jokes. We pass a lineup of cars on Park St. with cones on their roofs on our way to drop the second girl home. 

Freshers have moved into their halls today, so we go to check out the cemetery (Campus Watch call it ‘Brackens’) where they’ll be migrating after curfew. “There’s a lot more students out tonight,” Clive comments. We spy on a boy pushing a cone in a supermarket trolley. They explain to me that the reaction to Campus Watch isn’t always positive, as a student walking to the lookout yells an unintelligible mix of profanity at the car. 

“Tonight’s the night,” says Angela. We park at the cemetery gate at the mouth of the driveway to the lookout where freshers go to drink since all the student bars closed. The dull roar of what must be around 300 people drifts up the drive. Over the radio, someone reports that windows at the Big Cheese flat have been broken. 

A drunk girl approaches us as we reach the crowd. “You guys can protect me, I’m a little bit scared not gonna lie,” she says. She’s moved in to Unicol today with her two friends from high school. The three proudly show off their new friend: “She’s from Tennessee!” I ask them if they’re going to check out Castle St. and get a “fuck no” as they gesture to their not-white outfits that would make them stick out as freshers.

We leave them to it. A girl yells, “Oi, who’s got my hoon!” as we leave. “It’s a foreign language sometimes,” says Clive. I nod, recalling an earlier conversation with Angela where I explained to her what a breatha is.

Driving down Clyde St., we come across Deano who’s dealing with a pile of broken glass that’s appeared in the middle of the street since we passed through just fifteen minutes prior.

Angela pulls over when she spots trouble at the Castle flat on Leith; a stumbling girl is being escorted out by some guys. “CAMPUS WATCH!” yells a shirtless guy (using his chest in lieu of owning a white shirt?). I’m told to stay in the car. As they go to check on the girl, I overhear the guy say, “It’s called the Cemetery!” The team is learning all the lingo tonight. The team returns to the car, ready to move on. Clive wonders how to wave like the King of England, and my suggestion of “like Ken” gets a resounding, “Yes, that’s it!”

It’s getting busier on Castle St. now. I’m dropped off with Garry and Angela on Howe St. We go to check on Big Cheese and find other Campus Watch staff there already with a massive $100 roll of gladwrap patching up two windows at the entrance (“double-glazing!”) that were smashed. The girls who live there tell us that a group of guys came to the flat, ripped off parts of the staircase bannister and used them to smash the windows. They also ripped off a toilet seat from the downstairs bathroom that lies sadly on the ground behind them. 

The unofficial flat spokesperson, Sahara, compliments me on my “glowy skin”, a euphemism for “sweaty”. She slurredly rants that they’ll have to pay for the damage done, complaining at the “disrespect”. Moving outside, she gestures to a tree on their front lawn where the same guys also hung used condoms. A Team Charlie member muses it might be “their sign of flirtation.” But her questionable suggestion is interrupted when Sahara spots a smashed mirror on the ground: “That’s my fucking mirror!” Behind her, I see the girl who was escorted out of Castle earlier in tears surrounded by consoling friends. One of them pisses into the bush as he speaks to her.

The party is in full swing. A police car sandwiches Thirsty on either side with their lights flashing. The crowd froths in the front of the flat to DnB. Annabel whips out her torch to scan gutters for lost phones. I’ve never been so starkly aware of my own sobriety as we observe the crowd, missing the typical Castle beer goggles. Annabel checks on a girl who’s hunched over on the curb with a ciggie in hand. “Every time she drinks and smokes, she pukes,” Annabel says when she comes back.

Garry confirms his nickname is Gazza. He elbows me and says with a grin, “Let’s get a pancake.” I enthusiastically accept, and he introduces me to Red Frog volunteer Kat. She claims to make the best pancakes out of the team, who are shaking pancake mix like a quasi-cocktail bar in front of a massive queue. Everyone’s gotten noticeably wobblier at this point in the night; I spot a girl tripping over backwards as another asks us for a plaster. 

Kat wasn’t lying; these pancakes are the best fucking thing I’ve ever tasted. Fluffy, warm, and soaked in maple syrup that’s made the ground under the tent sticky from successive nights of spillage. 

As I rip into my second pancake of the night, we hear a bottle smash – right beside a glass bin. Here’s the thing about Campus Watch: they adore students and are super understanding of inevitable incidents that happen on a night out (vomiting, scrapes, fights, etc). But make no mistake – they hate broken glass with a fucking passion. The culprit’s eyes widen at the sight of Gazza approaching. He begins sheepishly muttering apologies. A couple metres away, a bro slaps his friend's ass with affection.

Deano’s caught someone breaking into a Uni Flat opposite Thirsty. The trespasser disappeared down the drive a bit too long for it to be just for a piss. “That’s a big issue,” he says, one that’s enabled by a combination of unlocked doors and non-students hanging around the area during parties. Apparently supermarket prices have gotten so bad that food items are increasingly becoming the target of burglaries, too. Deano’s cut short by the commotion next to a police car. A guy jumps onto the car before a group of four officers wrestle the offender into handcuffs and escort him away. “Parkour!” yells Gazza. 

Gazza, Annabel, Author Steve and I go for a walk around to the campus side of Castle via Cumberland St. “The contents of some guy’s stomach,” comments Gazza, pointing out vomit to avoid on the path. Two boys on a scooter fly past, gripping each other tightly, sure to have agreed “no homo” before taking off. Gazza receives a handshake and a “Sup, g” from a girl on Dundas.

“The music was shit and the lights were doing my head in,” says Ex-Cop Steve, when we greet him at the intersection of Castle and Dundas, away from the crowd. He gives us bad news. A group - likely the same who wreaked havoc at Big Cheese - has broken into one of the Uni Flats and wrecked the place. “Scummy people,” he says with venom. “We don’t know who the baddies were, the residents didn’t see anything because they were too scared hiding in their rooms.” 

The air is getting more tense as students get more fucked. A guy is escorted into the back of a police van, prompting a “There’s a baddie in the back!” from a nearby blonde dressed in white shorts and a white singlet. She and her friend wobble over to us and ask (yelling through ringing ears) for a hoodie to be brought via the Vomit Comet. 

Ex-Cop Steve and Gazza break up a fight where one guy was being pinned by another against the wall of a building, presumably attempting to prove to everyone that he has a massive penis. Hoodie Girl’s friend is thrilled, rushing over to get amongst the action, only to be told “Don’t be so stupid!” by Hoodie Girl. Get you a friend that holds you accountable, amiright?

I count five people now who’ve asked us for directions to a bathroom. “At this point in the night everyone’s looking for a place to wee,” says Annabel.

“Milton’s a bloody nice place!” yells a grey hoodied girl to the hoodie-yearning one. “That must be the quote of the night,” Annabel says. The Hoodie Duo, at the level of drunk where they’re yelling everything and have forgotten the concept of personal space, make up a fun new game. Taking a break from accusing passersby of being freshers, they guess each of our ages one by one. My age is in the range of Unknown Older Girl, as they fire ages from 17 to 23 at me. Gazza calls them “cheeky shites” when his ~55 is suggested to be 63, sparking a round of ‘who can imitate his Irish accent the best.’ A walking crowd to Maccas goes past: “Can we split a Hunger Buster?”

“You fucking cunt!” comes from a dude next to Big Red. “Stay the fuck out of our flat!” He’s standing with his friends facing off against another group of guys, and Campus Watch rush over to prevent another fight from happening. Turns out the guys being yelled at are high schoolers who’ve been stealing booze from Big Red throughout the night. Understandably, the flat’s pissed.

An ambulance wails into the street, and Gazza all but rubs his hands together as we follow in its wake. We’re stopped by a guy and a girl for a picture; I’m pleased, before worrying my sweaty forehead will reflect the ambulance lights. After they move on, we see a couple enter the ambulance without any clear signs of injury - only the guy isn’t wearing pants. 

Campus Watch Radio: “A cone’s been thrown at a car and smashed the windscreen.”

Gazza and I snag another couple pancakes from Red Frogs. It’s three hours past my bedtime already, and I make a lame Cinderella joke as an excuse to call it a night.

I tuck myself into bed with ringing ears, sticky fingers, and smelly feet, thinking admirably of the Campus Watch teams that will be out until 3am. Cheers for the free food, fellas.

This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2024.
Posted 4:53pm Sunday 25th February 2024 by Nina Brown.