Minature video cameras are being trialled in Tauranga in a bid to curb an upsurge in confrontations including death threats against the city's long-suffering parking officers. The cameras worn on jackets have already had a dramatic effect in calming people down since the trial began on Monday. They were activated as soon as a situation began to escalate. "We have noticed an increase in the number of difficult situations our parking officers are dealing with including verbal abuse, physical abuse, aggressive behaviour and threats," acting parking team leader Steven Trafford said. The most serious incidents have occurred in recent months. A driver drove into an officer, another received death threats and the third was physically assaulted. "None of the incidents resulted in serious injury. Our parking officers regularly encounter confrontational situations," Mr Trafford said. The death threat involved an aggressive person demanding to find out the name of the officer. An officer who spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times on condition he was not identified said a situation was defused on the first day of the trial when a person rushed across the road in a clearly agitated state towards a colleague wearing a camera. "They spotted the camera and calmed down. It was not as heated as it could have been." He said the cameras were all about safety when someone got in your face. His most confrontational experience in three years on the job was when he got cornered by three men outside the courthouse. "The language was fairly abrasive." The officer managed to talk his way out of the situation by saying the value of the ticket was not worth the hassle. "I have a background in security, so I am used to it." He said experience elsewhere with the cameras was that people tended to backdown once they realised they were being recorded. One of the two cameras being trialled for six weeks incorporated a small screen so that the agitated person actually saw themselves being filmed. The officer has noticed a lot more animosity being directed towards him over the past 18 months. Ninety per cent of people were pretty good, 10 per cent got heated and two out of that 10 per cent were quite aggressive. "It is because people are not in ideal situations, the stress is there." Each parking officer would experience one or two minor confrontations each week. "Going into Christmas and Easter are worse because people get stressed." The past six months had seen an officer threatened to be killed and another shoved backwards. Police were informed about the threat to kill, he said.
"They spotted the camera and calmed down. It was not as heated as it could have been."He dismissed the old chestnut that Tauranga parking officers had a quota of parking tickets to fill each day, saying he usually issued fewer than 20 tickets a day but it varied and depended on the situation because they worked across the whole city - wherever there were restrictions on parking. Part of their job included patrolling outside schools to keep traffic moving and ensure parents are not double parking or causing an obstruction. "It is not just about enforcement and issuing tickets." A big part of their duties was education. If someone arrived back at their car before the ticket had been written and entered the system, they were let off with a warning. The officer said he was regularly approached by people wanting directions or even which restaurant to eat at. "Sometimes it is almost like being a walking information centre." The Western Bay District Council has introduced video cameras for all its officers in Te Puke and Katikati after a trial earlier this year resulted in the elimination of abuse by those who wore the cameras. Previously the officers had experienced regular incidents of abuse. Main benefits of the video camera: Defuse aggressive behavior Hold those responsible to account Provide clear evidence in the case of desputes