Municipal counter staff regularly suffer from aggression or intimidation. This is why municipalities are arming themselves against angry citizens. To what extent does the Ministry advise this?
City hall security is very diverse. Both the exterior of the building and the interior are significantly different from each other. For example, one town hall has physical defenses against entering by car while the other town hall is completely empty. One of the town halls still has high security counters, and in another the conversations take place in some sort of living room setting. From the government we advise from www.veiligepubliekedienstverlening.nl. Municipalities can also post their questions there.
What is the most frequently asked question by municipalities about securing their town hall?
Most of the questions we receive at the Ministry of Interior relate to the furnishing of public spaces indoors. Sometimes there are also questions about the use of cameras in and around the building and the relationship with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Do you feel that aggression in municipalities has increased in recent years?
This also varies by municipality. In some municipalities aggression increases and decreases in others. What is remarkable is that, especially during the Corona measures, service providers often use limited working hours or perform their work remotely. This is not possible for every citizen. A large group of homeless people, for example, have very little call credit and cannot always charge the phone if they already have one. Then their much-needed remote assistance is sometimes literally out of their reach. This sometimes leads to aggression out of desperation and frustration.
How do you respond?
We have created a nationwide network of the Ministry of the Interior, in which the exchange of signals from daily practice takes place. Together we look at learning moments and look for best practices to improve the service.
Do you also see regional differences?
There are significant regional differences. Historically, we have known four stages at the national level:
Stage 1: An accident occurs, reactive actions are taken and we are back to business as usual.
Stage 2: Employees must be flexible and have the right conversation, training is essential for this.
Stage 3: A regulatory standard must be developed and enforced. In case of violation of the standard, measures and / or penalties are taken.
Stage 4: We are a learning organization, even in case of accidents. We want to investigate why someone is angry. When aggression arises from the form of service provided by the municipality, this signal is also shared with the relevant employee, department, manager or organization. In this way, services can be adapted and aggression prevented in the future. With good service, there is no reason to be aggressive in all reasonableness.
Unfortunately, in practice we encounter all forms, the differences are still quite significant.
What are the most common security issues?
We don’t have all the numbers from the municipalities. At first glance, smashing windows in the evenings or weekends in city halls seems to be the most common. Additionally, physical aggression still occurs, especially in closed counseling rooms. In some municipalities, the security guard works in one form or another as a janitor. This situation actually provokes aggression in some visitors. Fortunately, we see that more and more municipalities are training their security officers Hospitality. This makes them more of an extension of the service.
What are the most popular security solutions?
The open, family-looking environment makes people feel welcome. When employees are trained in hospitality training, asking questions about the actual needs of visitors and looking for a solution together rather than forcing a solution, people feel valued and aggression is significantly reduced up front. Aggression in the Drechtsteden social service, for example, has fallen by more than 70 percent in a few years.
Is it a good idea for all officials who have physical contact with civilians to be trained against aggression?
Not only is it a good idea, but it is a legal obligation under the Employment Conditions Act. It is important here that prevention must come first through training the right services: interrogation and hospitality. In addition, the aggression approach should also aim to prevent repetitive aggression. This means not only taking action, but also looking at what the offender needs to prevent recurrence. Sometimes this can be done by making agreements in a conversation. Other times you want someone to bring a (professional) supervisor with you to an interview, or you give someone space to respond by phone or in writing, for example. The basic principle is that the city hall should be a safe environment for employees and visitors.
And finally, should we care about (the motives) of an angry citizen?
More attention should be paid to the motives of the angry citizen. The case of the allowance was a stunning example. Complaints have been lodged for years, but have only been dealt with procedurally, without consideration of the objections’ arguments. He certainly did not consider the effect of this on individual personal attitudes. Therefore it is necessary to act on the basis of personal situation and proportionality. Do the rules still serve their purpose or is there an undesirable situation? And if an unwanted situation arises, do we report it? And where can we put this sign, so that the problem is seriously considered and resolved? In short, it is time for the human dimension to work according to intention. System thinking and reasoning according to established protocols must sometimes be abandoned. Civil servants have a certain discretion, which is the degree to which they can create space for creative solutions, as long as they can justify them. I invite civil servants to make use of this discretionary space.
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