Violence at public institutions puts security in spotlight

Two violent incidents yesterday and one today highlight the need for more security at government worksites, union says

The article is written with Syrian refugees, among others, in mind (photo: iStock)
March 16th, 2012 11:11 am| by admin
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The national office workers' union, HK, is demanding more security for council workers following three violent incidents at public institutions in Helsingør and Odense over the last two days.

A disgruntled man brandishing an axe at a job centre in Helsingør yesterday injured two council workers, and only an hour later another man attempted to burn down a job centre in Odense using a lighter and five litres of petrol. Just this morning, a psychiatric patient at Odense Hospital stabbed three employees. Details in that case are still developing.

HK have noted that in 2012 alone, there have already been registered six cases that they consider to be life-threatening and the general increase of such episodes is untenable.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that our members are forced to go to work frightened,” HK spokesman Mads Samsing said. “The rising number of cases and especially the potency of the violence used means that we must address the security issue.”

Mette Gregersen, head of the job centre in Helsingør, said she took yesterday's attack very seriously but maintained that it is important for councils to remain open and accessible to the public.

“Naturally, the employees are shocked and emotional,” Gregersen said. “Regardless of the amount of security we have, situations like this are ultimately unavoidable in the long run, and we do not want to get to a place where we are body-searching our citizens.”

Copenhagen University professor David Dreyer Lassen, who has researched the reasons for violence and threats against public workers, says that the increased violence  can be attributed to the financial crisis.

“Being denied the money necessary to function properly leads to amplified frustration,” Lassen said. ”Unfortunately, in many situations it is the case worker behind the desk that bears the brunt of this frustration because they become the symbol of the persons financial problems.”

Examples of disgruntled citizens reacting violently have been on the rise in the last few years, but three episodes stand out.

In 2007, security guard Benny Hansen was shot in the head and killed at a tax centre after he confronted a discontented man who had threatened a caseworker with a gun. In 2009, a man threw a Molotov cocktail at a job centre in Copenhagen after he was denied his social security. Case worker Birthe Christiansen was stabbed and killed in 2010 at a job centre parking lot in Holstebro.

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