Newcastle parking officers speak out over verbal abuse, intimidation

On patrol: Newcastle City Council parking officers Karen Low and Alicia Forrester on the beat in the CBD. They are among the inspectors who have been subject to abuse and intimidation. Picture: Marina Neil
On patrol: Newcastle City Council parking officers Karen Low and Alicia Forrester on the beat in the CBD. They are among the inspectors who have been subject to abuse and intimidation. Picture: Marina Neil

Threats of violence, vehicles swerving at them and eggs thrown from balconies – it can be all in a day’s work for the city’s parking inspectors.

According to Newcastle council records, officers have logged more than 40 instances of verbal abuse or physical intimidation in the city in the past two years. There have also been 57 reports of alleged assault in the past five years, the figures show.

Karen Low, a former corrections officer who has been a parking officer for four years, said she’d been verbally taunted by children as young as 13. 

Recently, she said, residents in some parts of the city had begun to throw eggs at parking inspectors from balconies in the west end.

“We are human, so how one reacts to different situations on any given day can change,” Ms Low said.

“If you’re having a bad day, it might get to you a little bit more. If you’ve had a run of that sort of behaviour on a particular day then obviously that’s going to take its toll.”

Alicia Forrester, who has been in the job for about three years, said she recently had a full can of energy drink hurled at her from a car.

She said it was common to cop verbal abuse in her line of work, but the intensity varied.

Ms Forrester said she’d even been approached while she was sitting and eating her lunch at Marketown, by a man who loudly berated her.

“It can be [yelling] out the window ‘get a real job’, it can be in your face: ‘how do you sleep at night’,” she said. 

“‘I hope your house falls in on you’, I got the other day, stuff about my family and children, ‘I’m going to find out where you live’, to physical threats – ‘I’m going to hurt you’, ‘I’m going to kill you’.

“We’ve had officers followed. They know the uniform and they know that they can come up to you at any time and just give you a gobfull.”

Both Ms Forrester and Ms Low have also had passing vehicles swerve at them.

“I was crossing at the green man, when I was supposed to, and I came to within about half a metre between [the vehicle] and a bus,” Ms Low said.

Parking has become a much talked-about issue again recently, with construction of the Newcastle 500 Supercars track, work on the light rail network and upgrades to Bathers’ Way temporarily reducing the number of spaces available in the city.

Newcastle council issued 27,827 parking fines last financial year, 22,206 in 2015/16, 25,355 in 2014/15 and 27,954 in 2013/14. Parking fines accounted for 1.5 per cent of council’s total revenue last financial year.

Newcastle council interim CEO Jeremy Bath said the intimidation and abuse of parking officers was cowardly.

"Our staff are simply doing their jobs,” he said.

"I understand that getting a parking ticket is a frustrating experience - I've received a few myself. But blaming, let alone assaulting, a parking officer merely doing his or her job enforcing our parking regulations cannot be allowed to occur under any circumstances.

“Council will not hesitate to refer these attacks on to police.

“Being a parking officer or ranger is a thankless task that frankly is one of the toughest jobs in the city.”

Newcastle police duty officer Inspector Dean Olsen said the parking officers had the support of police if they needed it.

“They’ve got a tough job that allows for the free-flow of society,” he said.

“We’d be inclined to take action against anyone who commits an offence against them.”

While it’s their job to enforce parking limits throughout Newcastle, Ms Low and Ms Forrester said they understood that no-one was going to be happy about being fined.

“But you get those people who, just the sight of us brings anger,” Ms Forrester said.

“They’ve been fined before and they’ve decided they hate us. You’re always going to have those people.”