Thousands of emergency staff nationwide are copping nasty abuse at the hands of the very people they are trying to help.

More than 2300 ambulance officers last year reported abusive altercations, including assault, as of December 16.

By September last year, more than 200 police officers had been physically attacked on the job.

It is something spokespeople for both organisations have condemned as unacceptable, while pointing to alcohol as part of problem.


Attacks on ambulance officers last year have included being knocked unconscious, having bottles thrown at them and being groped.

St John people and capability director Sue Steen said any abuse targeting ambulance officers was unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

"We support our people and continue to raise public awareness around this issue, but we need the public to do their part, too," Steen said.

While there were safe systems, alerts and supportive measures in place for staff there needed to be harsher deterrents, she said.

"St John supports the private members bill, Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, and the introduction of tougher penalties.

"Meantime, we ... encourage our people to seek prosecution and acknowledge the courage this takes."

St John is not alone in experiencing attacks.

Police officers reported 346 assaults in 2017.


NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill said it was not uncommon for police to be assaulted and over the years safety measures such as pepper spray, stab-resistant body armour and tasers had been developed to help protect staff.

But a lot of assaults came out of the blue, making it impossible to deploy safety features in time, Cahill said.

Some assaults, including those involving head injuries, could have "really serious consequences", he said.

"They might go back to work but they are never quite the same. As they get older some of that comes back to haunt them a little bit more."

It also took a toll on families.

NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo / Mark Mitchell
NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"They might come home with a black eye, or something as simple as that, but to their children that's really significant — that's mum or dad who isn't safe. They worry about them.

"It's the hidden cost of these assaults on police officers and on other emergency workers as well."

Ambulance officers were being assaulted far too often, he said.

A common denominator tended to be alcohol, Cahill said. People needed to know when to stop drinking because they often became aggressive when drunk, he said. "If everyone looks after their mates and whānau, everyone is going to have a better time at the end of it."

What needed to be constantly monitored was the number of police officers on patrols alone.

The association had been working with police on how risk was identified but "it was a challenge".

"Sometimes these things come out of nothing."

Volunteer firefighters are also not immune to copping abuse.

At the start of December, two firefighters sustained bloody noses while trying to break up a brawl at a crash at Waihi Beach. A 17-year-old was arrested over the matter.

In May, the Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill was pulled from the parliamentary ballot the day after it was submitted by New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball.

The bill proposes a mandatory minimum period of imprisonment of six months for people who assault emergency services staff. Currently only those who attack police face an aggravated assault charge.

When Ball introduced the bill in Parliament he pointed to a handful of examples that painted a stark reality for paramedics.

In May, a South Auckland ambulance officer treating a synthetic drug overdose patient was punched in the face by a bystander, he said.

In August, a Nelson ambulance officer who had recently given birth as a surrogate was assaulted on the first day of her return to work from maternity leave. She and her partner were shoved and kicked to the ground, he said.

In Australia, a similar law was brought in last year in the state of Victoria.

Abused on the job

• On average about 47 cases of crew abuse and assault towards ambulance staff happen weekly.
• About 12 of these were physical altercations.
• Nearly half involved alcohol or recreational drug abuse as a contributing factor.
• 14 per cent of abuse incidents relate to patients with mental health issues.
• Most cases of abuse and assaults on ambulance officers occurred during the weekends.