It is no secret that parking is an emotionally charged subject and, unfortunately, frontline workers, parking attendants often face the brunt of this emotion. The safety of parking attendants is an issue rarely discussed but one which has become more prevalent in recent years.
The Peterborough Telegraph recently reported that abuse is worsening against parking attendants with one warden detailing the assault and abuse they were facing on a regular basis. The newspaper article reported that there had been 21 serious cases against parking officers in Peterborough in 2022 alone (Source A).
In November 2018, Parking Control Management (PCM) began recording incidents and asked our parking attendants to report such occurrences. Since this time, PCM has recorded dozens of serious incidents. However, this does not include routine abuse and aggression which has not been reported. It appears there is an aspect of ‘desensitisation’ to abuse faced and so, to gain more insight into the prevalence of violence and aggression towards wardens, PCM conducted a survey among its operative workforce.
The survey asked nine questions and has had a total of 41 respondents. This feature will analyse the results of the survey and discuss the impacts that violence and aggression towards parking attendants.
The first two questions of the survey were as follows:
Taking the first question, it is shown that 68.29% of parking attendants had been subject to physical violence whilst carrying out their duties. Findings from the 2019/20 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) revealed that an estimated 1.4% of working adults were a victim of violence at work once or more during the year prior to their interview (Source C).
If this were to be taken as an ‘average level’ of violence at work in England and Wales, PCM’s initial data would suggest that parking attendants are subject to almost 50 times the average. The CSEW also reported that respondents in protective service occupations (such as police officers) faced the highest risk of assaults and threats – a rate of 8.4%. PCM’s data shows parking attendants face over eight times this level.
Although there does not appear to be comparable data with regards to purely verbal abuse, there are some industry-specific studies, namely relating to retail. In March 2022, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) released the results of its annual survey into abuse, threats and violence towards shopworkers. These results showed that 90% of respondents had experienced verbal abuse in the year prior (Source C).
While markedly closer to the data collected by PCM, there is still a significant margin, with parking attendants experiencing more than 5% above these levels.
The next three questions of the survey were:
The answers demonstrate that this problem is not only prevalent, but it is regular and the issue does not appear to be improving. 92.5% of respondents reported that incidents of violence and/or verbal abuse occur at least several times a month and 67.5% reported that they occur at least once a week.
It is clear that the risk of violence and aggression is ever-present in the working lives of parking attendants, with 92.68% of respondents reporting that the frequency of incidents had remained the same or indeed, increased. Equally, some 44% of attendants reported feeling unsafe often or very often owing to the risk of violence/aggression.
Question six focussed on police response to incidents and asked:
It would seem to be a logical suggestion that should one experience violence or aggression, they should contact the authorities, however, only 26.83% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the police are supportive when incidents happen. Saying this, the results show less of a consensus than previous questions, perhaps suggesting somewhat of a ‘postcode lottery’ as respondents are based in varying locations across England and Wales. It may also suggest that individuals have had mixed experiences, sometimes finding the police to be supportive and, in other cases, not helpful.
It is also worth noting that, in some cases, data alone cannot demonstrate the true picture. In late 2021, PCM codified reports on three instances whereby their operatives had experienced a sub-par service from the police.
These case studies are detailed below.
Case Study 01: PM015, Thamesmead (SE2)
Incident summary: While patrolling a residential development in Thamesmead, the operative was approached by a female on a motorised scooter who subsequently spat at the operative as she rode past.
Police response: Following the incident, PCM raised the issue with our instructing client who identified the suspect immediately. They asked us to pass their contact information to the police so they could provide this information to them. PCM duly did so.
On 15 September 2021, our client notified us that they had not received any contact from the police. In turn, the presiding officer claimed that they could not get hold of the client, despite all contact details provided being correct and the client denying this claim. On 20 September 2021, PCM emailed the officer regarding the matter and subsequently, the client attended their local police station to provide the information held.
By 12 October 2021, the operative had not had an update and so PCM chased the police in this regard. On 16 October 2021, the operative received a call from the police in which they were warned that should the sergeant feel the evidence is insufficient, no further action will be taken.
In late October, a suspect was detained and questioned, but allegedly they were not the person in the footage and so released without charge. However, our client maintains that they correctly identified the suspect. Unfortunately, our operative has since tested positive for Hepatitis B, but the police officer managing the case has maintained that this is not connected to the incident as the operative said the spit hit their hand.
To date, no further action has been taken.
Case Study 02: PM065, Luton (LU3)
Incident summary: After issuing a parking charge notice (PCN), the operative returned to his vehicle and was approached by the driver of the enforced vehicle and his friend. They began to question why the ticket was issued through the car window and became verbally aggressive before the driver punched through the operative’s vehicle window, smashing the glass over the operative.
Police response: At the time of the incident, the operative immediately left site and called 999. He was informed that they could not help him as it was not an emergency and that he should call 101. He did so and provided his information and he was advised he would be called in 2-3 days.
A week later, on 19 August 2021, a call was received from the police but a formal statement was not taken. Subsequently, PCM’s head of operations spoke to the police and all evidence was supplied on 20 August 2021.
On 27 August, a PC replied advising that she could not access the evidence provided and asked if she could attend PCM’s office to obtain it. The address was supplied to which the officer advised that she is based in Luton and asked if there was a more local office for her to attend. She was advised that all PCM premises were in Slough. The PC asked whether the footage could be uploaded via the GoodSam app. We created an account on GoodSam and replied to the officer asking how long it would take for the account to be activated.
Owing to no reply, on 10 September 2021 PCM chased a response. Again, no response was forthcoming and so PCM lodged a formal complaint with Bedfordshire Police. At this stage, we were told that an officer would be contact. Yet again, no contact was received and so the complaint was chased on 12 October 2021 and it was requested that the matter be escalated.
On 1 November 2021, a call was received from a detective sergeant who advised that the PC had filed the case as closed but it would now be re-opened. The detective sergeant provided his email address and all evidence was sent.
Our operative was contacted on 9 November 2021 and the police advised that they did recognise the offender, but they believe he has moved out of the area and will now try to locate him.
Case Study 03: PM015, Lewisham (SE10)
Incident summary: After issuing a PCN to a vehicle parked contrary to the terms, the driver aggressively approached the operative and threatened him. The operative asked him not to be rude and explained he was simply performing his job and began to walk away. The driver again shouted back at the operative who repeated he was doing his job role and so, the driver ran back up to the operative, pushed his body camera and punched him in the face, resulting in a fractured eye-socket and jaw. His injuries have had lasting effects on his sight, which will require further medical intervention.
Police response: Immediately after the incident, the operative called 999 and subsequently waited three hours before the police attended the scene and took his statement. PCM raised the incident with our instructing client who obtained CCTV footage and identified the suspect. On 3 November 2021, the overseeing officer was emailed for an update and informed that we have evidence/information that would prove useful for the investigation. Four days later, the officer responded requesting the body camera footage. Within 24 hours, PCM responded providing the details of the suspect and requested a means to provide the evidence.
While a suspect was eventually arrested, no charges were brought and there have been no further developments since June 2022. Unfortunately, the suspect continues to harass the operative on a regular basis.
The next two questions of the survey were on discrimination based on race or gender and asked:
PCM has a fairly diverse operative workforce, with only 16.67% of parking attendants identifying as ‘White British’. The most represented nationality is Romanian, comprising 73.81% of parking attendants. It very well may be the case that this high proportion of non-British operatives somewhat skews the picture for the prevalence of racially motivated discrimination. This is not to say that discrimination and indeed racial discrimination is not an issue at play – as above, 44.83% said that incidents always or usually have a discriminatory element.
To further this point, below is a case study detailing one of the most striking incidents with a racial discrimination factor.
Case Study 04: PM016, Croydon (CR0)
On 19 June 2019, PM016 was patrolling a site in Croydon. After swearing and shouting racist abuse at her, a man proceeded to throw dog excrement at the operative. This excrement hit the operative in the face, getting into her eyes, mouth and ears. This matter was reported to the police as a racially motivated assault, although no action has been taken by the authorities.
In terms of gender, men make up 69.05% of PCM’s parking attendants, whereas women make up 30.95%. According to CareerSmart, women make up less than 15% of the overall parking attendant and civil enforcement officer workforce (Source D). Therefore, PCM’s above-average representation of women among its parking attendants may somewhat skew the true picture of discriminatory incidents. However, equally, it may very well be the general low representation of women within the sector that gives rise to such discrimination.
While somewhat anecdotal in nature, it has been reported to PCM by female attendants on several occasions that they have noticed that some motorists feel they can ‘bully’ the female parking attendants more so than their male colleagues.
The final question of the survey asked what helps respondents the most in feeling safe.
By a considerable margin, the most popular answer was the ability to issue postal PCNs. Not only is the ability to issue postal parking charges entrenched in law, but it is a vital tool for the safety of front-line parking personnel and as above, parking attendants feel it to be of most help in keeping safe in the course of their duties.
The feeling on this was best summarised by one of the responses on the option for ‘other’: “The body camera is a great help but the ability to be able to issue postal PCNs makes a significant difference. CCTV is also important but these days people are not worried about getting caught for hurting people and do not care if it is on camera. They will film such things themselves if they have the chance and wear any consequences of their actions like a badge.”
While it is acknowledged that the sample size of the survey was limited, it undoubtedly still provides valuable insight into the unacceptable levels of violence and aggression faced by parking attendants. It is a matter that is rarely discussed but in the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Awareness is the greatest agent for change..
Annie Oliver is legal and compliance manager at Parking Control Management (UK)
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