Northumbria Police Roll Out Spit Guards
19 July 2018, 16:09
Northumbria Police will become the 37th force to introduce the mesh hoods - despite opposition from human rights activists.
It said guards will only be used on suspects who are thought to be about to spit, and will not be used on people with breathing difficulties or those who have vomited.
Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon said 341 officers and staff were spat at in 2017 - almost one assault a day - and that some of those incidents included spittle going in a member of staff's mouth or eyes.
Spit guards will be carried by officers as part of their kit after they have undergone training, and will be used only once.
Ms Bacon said: "They are a really proportionate way of a lower force approach to prevent people from spitting."
The alternatives that officers have used up to now were restraining suspects with their heads down, covering their mouth, which requires greater force.
She said: "I want my staff to be protected and I think the public would expect me to utilise things that are low risk that don't cause harm and protect us from unacceptable, horrible assaults.
"Staff are really supportive of the introduction of spit guards.
"I'm not sure people really appreciate how horrible it is to be spat at.
"It's not just the fact that it's a horrendous thing to happen, it's the real risk of infection, bacterial viruses and officers have to wait up to six months to find out whether they have been infected."
She said a suspect fitted with a guard would still be able to see, hear and breathe through the material.
Staff will be given clear guidelines about when they can be used.
"It will be in response to someone who is spitting at us or we can clearly see is intending to spit," Ms Bacon said.
The force said the National Police Chiefs' Council, the Police Federation and public sector unions supported their use.
But Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International's UK military, security and police programme director, called for more consultation.
He said: "Spit hoods can be a cruel and dangerous form of restraint.
"Some models of spit hood can restrict breathing and can cause extreme distress, especially when used for prolonged periods.
"We want to see the brakes put on their introduction whilst proper consultation is carried out and assurances are given about the models that can be used, the precise circumstances in which they should be used, and the full medical implications of putting these hoods over people's heads."