Council toilet staff given bodycams to record threatening and abusive incidents
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Council bosses have been forced to issue public toilet staff with body-worn cameras after they were the targets of a spate of threatening and abusive incidents.
The jaw-dropping admission, from Denbighshire’s head of highways and environmental services Tony Ward, comes after increasing incidents of racial abuse, threats, intimidation and even assault against staff.
He said incidents of abusive behaviour towards those sanitising and giving access to our vital facilities had “increased in severity” since lockdown restrictions were eased.
Mr Ward said: “It’s a significant minority being generally either rude or aggressive, shouting at staff, threatening staff.
“We’ve had members of staff racially abused too, so quite nasty incidents.
“There has been property damaged by people seemingly in a rage – that was at the Events Arena in Rhyl.
“Someone, somewhere is seemingly on the end of this unacceptable behaviour on a daily basis.
“We have invested in body-worn cameras, which are now mandatory PPE for our toilet staff.
“It’s astonishing we have to do that type of thing and I never thought I would see the day we had to issue body-worn cameras to public convenience staff.”
Mr Ward said he wasn’t sure what was behind the aggressive behaviour but police were investigating one attack on a member of staff.
Reiterating the majority of the public was respectful to staff, he added: “The incidents are significant and the effects on staff are significant.”
Rhyl Events Arena toilets and those in the nearby Children’s Village have seen the most episodes of aggressive behaviour towards workers, due to the numbers of people visiting, but Mr Ward said it was happening all over the council’s estate.
However, the bad behaviour has not been targeted solely at staff tending public conveniences.
The head of the authority’s arms-length leisure company claimed his employees have also been on the receiving end of “terrible abuse” from punters as North Wales sees record numbers of visitors.
Jamie Groves is managing director of Denbighshire Leisure Ltd and he said a “significant and aggressive minority” had targeted young staff.
He revealed he was also on the receiving end of a “foul-mouthed” tirade – because someone had waited five minutes for a drink at peak time.
He said security staff are also being engaged to make sure both licensing laws and Covid restrictions are being adhered to at busy times – and staff are being respected.
He said: “We have experienced a minority of people who have seen it fit to be using foul and abusive language and aggressive behaviour against staff.
“I think there’s maybe a lack of patience and understanding with a minority.
“Since lockdown, numbers have been unprecedented and inevitably that means services such as our restaurants are under more pressure.
“Waits are slightly longer or it’s harder to book a table because we are extremely busy and some younger staff have had to experience some terrible behaviour.”
He said the majority of customers are “exceptional” but he has been forced to increase camera coverage and security at some venues because of a minority of aggressive customers who appear to lack patience.
Mr Groves said because of the shortage of experienced hospitality workers and a nationwide shortage of chefs, they have been forced to take on a much younger workforce.
He said he “couldn’t put a finger” on why the attitude of some customers had deteriorated but he said “maybe lockdown changed behaviours”.
He said: “I served someone and the individual said to me ‘I’ve been waiting five minutes’.
“I apologised and explained we were trying to serve more than 300 people and if he’d been waiting five minutes it wouldn’t be much longer.
“I got a torrent of abuse and they walked off – it’s a constant issue across our outlets.”
He said some customers had complained about the enforcement of Covid rules, with some not taking kindly when they were applied.
Mr Groves said: “There’s less empathy – people are entitled to have their opinion but the bottom line is we have to abide by rules and that’s the reality.
“The world is very different for everybody and we are all trying to get used to it but there’s a minority whose behaviour is not acceptable.
“We have taken a zero tolerance policy to abusive and aggressive behaviour – even though it’s only a minority.
“We sometimes get it wrong because we deal with huge numbers in some of our sea-front restaurants but I take the view it’s not for our staff to deal with confrontation.”