The recent assault which hospitalised an Auckland parking officer is a sharp reminder that public service can be a thankless task, and sometimes highly dangerous.
PSA organiser Glen Cooper says this was the most serious assault for a number of years, but "parking officers do bear the brunt of a public attitude that you can have a go at them".
William Wong, a parking officer in South Auckland, knows this only too well. “We get verbally abused every day, even from people just driving past. You need to put on a coat of armour when you go out.
“The public’s perception of us is very stereotypical. They think we’re just handing out tickets to get money from them but it’s nothing like that. Just imagine the chaos without us. “
Fellow delegate Rachel Elisaia-Hopa says 90 percent of the public are “awesome”. It’s the remaining 10 percent that’s the problem, the ones who see parking wardens as fair game.
“Parking officers are always at risk. They have to enforce the legislation but they don’t have any powers of arrest.”
Rachel is a trainer for Auckland Transport parking officers; she’s also a health and safety rep and says the level of abuse escalates when there’s negative media coverage or after a talkback show complaining about parking tickets.
The lead-up to Christmas, when money is tight and people are stressed, is also a difficult time.
Both William and Rachel are part of a working group that’s looking at ways to make the job safer. They’ve come up with 12 recommendations that Auckland Transport management is now working through.
“It’s been a good process,” says William. We’ve engaged with everyone to find better ways to do things. I’m a PSA delegate so I was keen to get involved and I’ve really enjoyed being part of it. I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
One of the ideas to come out of the working group is an information leaflet to give to the public that explains what parking wardens do and why, and what the public’s rights are.
“Parking officers would like Auckland Transport to get us positive coverage. There are so many things parking officers do that don’t get attention – helping with breakdowns, changing tyres, giving directions, reporting hazards. Enforcement is only one part of their job,” says Rachel.
It’s also important the public understands that once the parking officer has written a ticket they can’t take it back, she says. “They write the ticket according to what they see but if you have other explanations, write in with them. Don’t take it out on the parking officer.”
Other ideas include more training on dealing with conflict, technology such as on-person cameras, removing the perception that officers have a quota of tickets to give out.
“There isn’t one solution,” says William. “And even if you do everything, one day you come across the person who snaps. You look at them and you know it’s not going to go well, whatever you do.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away. There’s no point putting yourself in harm’s way. It’s more important to arrive home.”
As Rachel says, “Violence and abuse are not OK. They are not what you sign up for when you go to work.”
The parking warden who was assaulted is a PSA member. He was in hospital for five days and is now at home. Rachel keeps in contact with him. “It was a serious assault but he’s slowly getting better,” she says.
This article is from the August 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.