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Dealing with Aggressive Members of the Public

Aggression / n. 1. the act or practice of attacking without provocation, esp. beginning a quarrel or war. 2. an unprovoked attack. 3. self-assertiveness; forcefulness. 4. Psychol. a hostile or destructive tendency; such behaviour

Aggressive / adj. 1. of a person; a. given to aggression; openly hostile. b. forceful; self-assertive. 2. (of an act) offensive, hostile. 3. of aggression.

Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th Ed.)

Having to deal with difficult members of the public is generally recognized as “part of the territory” that comes with working in local government. The introduction of employer obligations to provide a safe workplace can serve as a reminder of the need to consider the various options that may be available to deal with members of the public whose conduct crosses the line from merely being difficult to being overly aggressive. The following is a general characterization of the types of aggressive persons that a local government may encounter:

▪ The Council Disruptor
▪ The Disruptive Public Protestor
▪ The Threatener
▪ The Abusive Speaker
▪ The Social Media and Online Defamer

This paper will use these examples of aggressive person types in considering the obligations of local governments to their staff who have to deal with these types of behaviours and some of the options that are available to local government managers to respond to such behaviour. The implementation of these options should be done in a manner that is respectful of constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression.

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