Parking wardens are the council staff most likely to be assaulted in the line of duty, while for librarians, dealing with angry people and difficult behaviour is a regular challenge.
The Palmerston North City Council, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Tararua and Rangitikei district councils and Horizons Regional Council have been searching their memory banks to find examples of abuse of their staff in the past five years.
Attacks and threats against five city parking wardens and an injury to a library staff member were among the incidents reported to police. The wardens were variously hit with a vehicle, assaulted by a shop owner, swerved at, and threatened with a golf club.
In Tararua, a library staff member who intervened in a fight among patrons followed the group outside, was inadvertently struck by one of the combatants, and bruised her head on a railing. The offenders were served with a two-year trespass order.
At Palmerston North Library, no staff have been hurt but 38 people have been trespassed from the property - some for repeated breaches of a code of conduct for library users, such as causing a disturbance, and others for extreme breaches, such as theft, or frightening children.
City librarian Anthony Lewis said he was surprised the number was so high. On the other hand, he recognised that the library was often a safe, warm place to go for people who were out of work, had mental health problems, or were facing a variety of challenges.
"We get a pretty wide cross-section of people, and often they can be very angry or frustrated, depending on what happened at the last place they visited, and some small thing can set them off."
Trespass orders have also been used at the Horowhenua District Council - one for abusive language towards staff, one for threatening behaviour toward staff, and one for a disturbance at a public meeting.
Horowhenua has reported eight incidents of verbal abuse, and four that were reported to police.
Staff on the receiving end of abuse were employed in animal control, aquatics, parking control, management, governance and customer services.
"Incidents have included being sworn and yelled at, defamation against character, integrity, honesty, and professionalism being questioned," chief executive David Clapperton said.
Some of the abuse came by email, with one writer acknowledging it was abusive, but was "totally valid and necessary abuse".
Palmerston North call centre staff handle "almost daily" unpleasant calls, sometimes of a sexual nature.
Parks and property staff have faced some "rash accusations", a roading team member was told "heads will roll" and a caller said he would come and shoot a planning services staff member, following up with a verbal apology. In building services, threats of physical harm were sometimes made, but none were acted on.
Horizons did not have any examples of physical abuse or having to involve police.
"We acknowledge that from time to time our staff receive verbal abuse from members of the public, and that this is a safety and welfare issue for our staff," spokesman Craig Grant said.
All councils offered training for staff in defusing volatile situations, ensuring staff were accompanied to potentially risky situations, and support for anyone distressed by abuse.
For example, all Rangitikei staff who need to visit private properties have attended a tactical communication training course. Frontline staff have received Armed Hold Up training, and most staff have attended customer service, public speaking and presentation courses.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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