It’s no secret that there are a lot of emotions on display these days – unfortunately most of them are not happy ones. The recent election process andthe events since its completion have proven that we are a nation deeply divided and honestly, nobody is pleased with the way things are going. Regardless of which side of the issues you’re on, you’re probably experiencing turmoil.
Unfortunately some people are taking that emotion out on our employees, especially if you are in any way associated with government. Those racist rants you see making their way around Facebook? Or the anger turning to violence against innocent people going about their business? If it hasn’t happened to your employees yet, it probably will. It has hit us here in the City of Las Vegas pretty hard and we have had to figure out how to support our employees while still serving our customers.
On two occasions in the last month, our enforcement officers have been assaulted in the field doing their jobs. The first was an Uber driver who shoved and yanked around the officer giving him a citation for parking at a red curb. The second was a man in a neighborhood that objected to being cited and shoved the officer around. Both men had prior records of assault, and one had an outstanding warrant. And it’s not just parking – a city code enforcement officer was threatened with a shotgun recently.On top of this, a man came into our office to address a parking ticket and ended up going on a loud, long, racist rant, telling the staff they were going to be deported, they didn’t belong in this country, he couldn’t understand them because they couldn’t speak English – just like those rants you see on Facebook. The staff ended up in tears because of all the really awful things he said.
Those of us in parking are pretty used to angry customers. We are appreciated by some people, but usually those who work alongside or elsewhere in our organizations. The general public doesn’t look too favorably on us, and we’ve developed a pretty thick skin and ability to let the anger slide off. While it is a necessary skill in our industry, it also, I think, does us a disservice when confronted with these types of situations. We don’t push back, we let people have their say without getting into arguments, we retreat when faced with aggression and just all around don’t stir the pot.
But in the face of physical violence and racist, personally hurtful language, we don’t know what to do, really. Our skills, so carefully developed, don’t diffuse or prevent escalation in these cases. Both officers that were assaulted refused to press charges and our office staff didn’t call for backup. So what should we do as employers to protect our employees? We hire and train for the skill set that screams at us NOT to take action or call for help, so is it reasonable to expect our employees to all of a sudden ignore that instinct? Not without a lot of discussion, reassurance, training and organizational support.
These situations are where I believe managers and employers need to step in and prove their worth. We called a meeting with our law enforcement folks at
the highest levels. We looked at state and local laws to see if there was legal action the City could take against those who assault our employees or harass them in the office. We came up with a plan and spent a lot of time coaching our employees – and we will continue to do so. Most importantly, we need to make sure we back up our talk.
Here’s what we did:
- Charges are being pressed against the two people who physically assaulted our officers – by the city, not by the officers
- Our law enforcement officers are doing 3 times daily visits to our customer service office
- All of our staff attended verbal judo classes – the ones taught to police officers that dive pretty deep into human psychology and help us predict reactions and use some “mind tricks” to keep us safe
- We revised our panic button policy – previously employees were told they should only activate their panic buttons if there was an active shooter or they felt physically threatened – now, they are told to give a customer using foul language, racist or threatening remarks one warning and then get help
- We stress over and over again to everyone that it is NOT okay for people to treat us that way. If we don’t do anything, we are essentially telling them they can continue. And what will happen when they come into contact with another city employee? What about the people around that hear and see us treated that way with no consequences?
As managers and employers, we have an obligation to do our best to create a safe and positive workplace. We need to support our employees who do such emotionally difficult jobs. Remember, we’ve taught them skills that make it very difficult for them to make a stand and the onus is on us, not them, to make the change.
– Brandy Stanley, City of Las Vegas