Abuse of council staff rising

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by Chris Tobin

Timaru District Council staff are on the receiving end of increased abuse from the public.

A council spokesperson said security of workers’ homes had been reviewed in the past due to threats made on staff members’ lives and their families.

Those bearing the brunt of the abuse are parking wardens, who have been issued with body cameras.

Last year the council recorded 28 incidents, well up on the 10 reported in 2016, and 16 in 2017.

Over three years, 2016-2018, a total of 24 incidents involved parking enforcement and 19 were physical threats.

Police were called to 21 incidents and on one occasion a staff member was injured.

“We realise that not everything the council does is going to be popular with people but at the end of the day these are people doing a necessary job and don’t deserve to be the target of abuse,” a council spokesperson said.

The numbers

A total of 54 abuse-of-council-staff incidents have been registered in the past three years 2016, 2017, 2018.

They comprised:

Parking enforcement (24)

Personal disputes (9)

Animal control (7)

Voicemail, phone call abuses (4)

Youth misbehaviour (3)

Dangerous/angry driving (3).

The remaining four involved noise control, visual abuse, landowner abuse and communicable diseases.

Security and safety of staff was the number one priority for the council, which had been brought into focus after the shootings at Ashburton’s Winz office in September 2014 when two staff were shot dead and others were injured, the spokesperson said.

“People should be safe to go about their business without the threat of physical or emotional harm.”

A security specialist reviewed the council’s customer facilities which resulted in body cameras being introduced, a redesign of customer services and installation of CCTV cameras in public buildings.

A special lockdown system has also been installed for the main council building.

“We hold regular drills to ensure that all our staff know what to do in the event of a security issue.

“Frontline staff have also been offered de-escalation training to help them lessen the chance of this kind of situation becoming worse.”

Counselling services were also available after any incident to debrief affected workers and to ensure they were coping.

Mid South Canterbury area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin said he did not have access to police data regarding council reported incidents.

“I really don’t think it is able to be obtained,” he said.