Fists, elbows and even an electric scooter are among the weapons used in attacks on parking wardens this year.
Some councils report big jumps in abuse, others say it just keeps on happening. All urge motorists to remember wardens are real people.
In the capital there’s been a “significant increase” in the number and severity of assaults on wardens since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year.
“The increase […] has increased the stress levels for our people,” says city council spokesman Richard MacLean.
“This has had an effect on the overall turnover of staff in the last 10-12 months as people decide that coming to work just to be verbally abused every day is no longer rewarding.”
Maila Mano has worked as a parking warden in Lower Hutt for more than 30 years, despite being attacked by a dog during his first week on the job.
“That was the worst assault that I received as a parking warden,” Mano says, recalling the bite that resulted in blood pouring from his fingers.
But unfortunately it wasn’t the only one.
Once a man wandered out of a pub after a few drinks and grabbed Mano by his tie; on another occasion he was spat on.
Mano, who arrived from Samoa aged 21, says the people responsbile for such attacks are very much the minority and he’s got used to the good and bad of being a warden.
“I love working close to home and I love to serve the community in the Hutt because I’m a Hutt boy, I don’t want to go anywhere else. When I arrived from the island this was my first city.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton City Council reports a 65 per cent increase in incidents of antisocial behaviour against staff when comparing the 2018/19 financial year to the most recent.
Acting city transportation unit manager Robyn Denton says most members of the public are reasonable but some forget parking wardens are real people.
“We have observed a noticeable increase in verbal abuse over the past year, and near-misses experienced by wardens crossing at signalised pedestrian crossings.”
There’s been a slight increase in such incidents in Christchurch.
Between February 2020 and October 2021, the city council recorded 30 instances of abuse, four assaults, and two cases of harassment.
A spokesperson said the worst examples of abuse included an officer being punched and attacked with an electric scooter and another being pushed over and injured.
On another occasion a warden was harrassed by people in a vehicle who slowly drove down the street very close to them, while filming the intimidation.
Things have been better in Auckland this year, although that’s being attributed to the city’s lengthy lockdown.
Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said some people had developed bad habits like parking on clearways and in resident zones.
“Most Aucklanders are very positive, but we have had the odd one who is not willing to assist with getting back to normal.”
In the far south, Dunedin City Council’s Claire Austin says abuse towards wardens is an ongoing issue.
“Abuse toward officers has ranged from physical attacks to serious verbal abuse, threats to kill, assault, or harm, as well as lower-level abusive comments.
“For example, one parking officer was ‘elbowed’ by a customer, while another had the comment “I hope you die” shouted at them.”
Councils’ responses include special training on situational awareness and de-escalation techniques, access to free counselling, and requirements for wardens to wear body cameras to record incidents.
Before every shift, Mano spends half an hour preparing for the worst.
At the end of the day he and his co-workers spend half an hour cooling down and debriefing before going home to their families.
“Although inside you feel angry about it, you can’t do a thing. You have to stay calm.”
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