Beverly Coleman and Justin Tyas examine the case of a city-based local authority that implemented the use of body cameras for its Civil Enforcement Officers because of the high levels of violence and aggression they were encountering.

Problems associated with the parking of vehicles are recorded as far back as Roman times, with Julius Caesar forbidding certain vehicles from entering the business districts of large cities at specific times because of congestion. The Traffic Management Act 2004 (TMA) was introduced to tackle congestion and disruption on the road network. The TMA places a duty on local traffic authorities to make sure that traffic can move freely and quickly on their roads and on the roads of nearby authorities. The TMA gives councils tools to manage parking policies, co-ordinate street works and enforce some moving traffic offences.

Parking contraventions are dealt with by issuing a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) and, in appropriate circumstances, by clamping or removing the vehicle to a pound. Enforcement can take place either on the street by Civil Enforcement Officers (CEOs – formerly known as “parking attendants” or “traffic wardens”), who are the public face of parking control, by static CCTV cameras (ie fixed to buildings, etc) or by mobile CCTV units in vehicles.

Violence towards Civil Enforcement Officers

According to findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (2012/13), 323,000 adults of working age in employment experienced work-related violence including threats and physical assault, and strangers were the offenders in 60% of cases. While the risk of being a victim of workplace violence is low, there are certain occupational groups, such as police officers and health professionals, who have direct face-to-face contact with members of the public and are generally at higher risk.

Evidence presented to the London Assembly Parking Enforcement Scrutiny Committee in 2005 noted:

“Across London the level of assaults is rising. On average, more than three parking attendants are assaulted every day in London… Within this total, attendants have been run over, have been assaulted by gangs with baseball bats and have even been shot at — all because they issued a parking ticket.”

Assaults on CEOs are frequently reported in the national and local press. The Bath Chronicle reported in January 2014 on the case of a 34-year-old man who was fined £705, ordered to pay £85 costs and a victim surcharge of £70 under the Public Order Act 1986 for causing harassment, alarm or distress, and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour towards a CEO who was simply doing his job. This prompted the local authority to adopt body cameras for its CEOs. This type of intervention has been used successfully by other parking enforcement authorities in other areas of the country, including metropolitan regions.

The reality is that members of the public often have a negative perception of CEOs. They may be seen as hostile, predatory or the face of authority. For organisations, violent and aggressive attacks on staff can lead to loss of time, financial implications including increased costs as a result of procuring additional agency staff and legal fees following claims, as well as a reduction in staff morale. Equally for the affected employee the effects of a violent incident can be both physical and psychological.

Statutory requirements

The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and associated regulations made under the Act, such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation 2013 (RIDDOR) make the management of work-related violence a matter of law.

Under the HSWA, employers have a legal duty to ensure, “so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees”. While this is a very broad duty, the MHSWR explicitly requires employers to consider the foreseeable risks to employees (including violence); to decide on the significance of these risks and develop controls to ideally prevent or otherwise control these risks. This requires proactive management action rather than tacit compliance.

As well as duties laid down by criminal law, employers also have duties to their employees under common law, including protecting staff from violent attacks by the public. Employers have a legal duty under RIDDOR to make a formal report to the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Incident Contact Centre if any of their staff experience a physically violent incident which results in death, major injury or absence from work for seven days or more, excluding the day of the incident.

Body cameras

A city-based local authority committee received a report providing details of the level and trends of assaults suffered by its CEOs by enraged motorists on receipt of a PCN. This group of workers was identified as being at the highest risk of violence. The committee decided to trial body cameras affixed to the lapel of the CEO’s jacket, which could be activated when they felt threatened. A small button on the side of the camera is pressed if the CEO feels threatened and the device starts to record. Recordings can be viewed at base and footage used in court as evidence. The aim was to deter motorists from hostile behaviour and, in the event of abuse, the camera would provide vital evidence that would enable prosecutions to be made and support the CEO. In addition to the body cameras, other devices can be called on in a violent and aggressive situation such as the CEO’s two-way radio and mobile phone.

Methodology

Following an initial trial period with the body cameras, a study was conducted to investigate the effects the body cameras had on the level of violence experienced by the CEOs, to try to ascertain whether the cameras had a protective effect and whether there were any lessons to be learnt. CEOs remain the highest risk group (per head) for violence in the local authority. A questionnaire survey was developed through engagement with the unions, senior management and health and safety advisors and issued to all CEOs.

The survey was divided according to main base in which the CEO was located, as it was felt that there could be differences due to the areas patrolled (geographical “beat”), with the socio-demographics of the local authority concerned. In addition, respondents were given the option to include variable information such as their gender, age and ethnicity to their responses, these variables were included to try to identify whether these factors played a part in the level of violence that was received.

There was a mixture of questions in which the CEOs were asked to rate responses on a Likert scale (1 to 5) about a particular statement such as the following.

  • How safe do you feel when using the body cameras?

  • Has the introduction of body cameras had an effect on the level of violence and aggression you experience while carrying out your duties?

Respondents were also asked about the circumstances that would make them decide if and when they used their body cameras, as well as the overall training and support they were given. In addition, they were also asked about why they might not use their body cameras. Respondents were also asked (in a free response section) to suggest ways to make improvements to reduce the scale and impact of violence towards them.

Findings

The response rate was high, at 68%. Overall, the body cameras have had a positive effect. When asked how safe they felt, 6% of respondents felt very safe, 23% of respondents felt safe, 15% of respondents experienced no difference; however, 2% reported that they felt unsafe. 30% of respondents felt the cameras affected the level of violence they experienced. Encouragingly, many respondents felt that the cameras themselves acted as a deterrent, defusing a potentially violent incident.

There was no evidence to suggest heightened levels of violence due to age, race or gender. However, despite the high response rate, the relatively small size of the sample did not allow for statistically significant differences to be determined. The free response section provided a good source of ideas for further improvement.

Lessons

The results of the study identified the need for additional support for CEOs who were subjected to violence while at work, from management and the police. In addition there was a perceived lack of incident follow-up, with some CEOs mentioning that they felt vulnerable returning back to the streets after time off following a particularly violent incident. The local authority’s employment assistance programme was perceived positively; this allowed CEOs to sign up to receive free confidential advice, support and counselling.

Alongside the body cameras, which have generally had a positive protective effect, CEOs should also be provided with additional refresher training to ensure they have the skills to defuse situations such as conflict management and personal safety training. A key finding from the study was the need to build the use of the body cameras into conflict management training: for example, the discretion to warn a potentially violent perpetrator that they may be recorded before an incident escalates. Body cameras alone cannot be the only source of protection during a violent incident and, ultimately, a range of controls will be required including tertiary support where necessary, along with monitoring and the engagement of police support.

Further information

Parking Enforcement in London, London Assembly Transport Committee (2005)

Last reviewed 12 March 2014