A CONTROVERSIAL method of preventing arrested people from spitting at police officers is being rolled out by Thames Valley Police (TVP).
Spit guards, made from a light, see-through, breathable material which go over the subject’s head, are being issued to all front-line police officers once full training has been completed.
Since April 1, 2016, 306 TVP officers have reported being assaulted by being spat at. Of these, 30 officers reported being exposed to contamination risk as a result of fluid from the subject entering their mouth, nose, eyes or open wound, posing a risk of transmitting a range of infectious diseases including Hepatitis C.
TVP says that the use of spit guards will reduce the potential for the transmission of these infectious diseases and are already being used by a number of forces across the country.
But human rights campaign group Liberty have called the guards ‘primitive, cruel and degrading’, and urged forces not to adopt them.
The news comes as the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) begins its ‘Protect the Protectors’ programme, calling for tougher sentences against people who assault police officers, and a wider roll-out of equipment such as spit guards and tasers.
Vice Chair of the PFEW, Calum Macleod said: “Police officers face extraordinary situations and risks every day and these can often happen in the blink of an eye. Quite simply an assault on a police officer or any other emergency worker is abhorrent and should never be seen as a part of the role they perform for the public.
“We are not satisfied that the legal system treats these matters with the severity they deserve and are calling for a holistic review of sentencing guidelines and legislative changes to protect our officers and those other public servants who daily work for the benefit of the communities they serve.”
The introduction of spit guards to TVP officers follows guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) last year which recommended that “forces give serious consideration to the issue of spit protection to all front line officers.”
Officers will receive guidance on how to safely and effectively use this new piece of protective equipment as part of their training. Training will also include information on how to record incidents in which spit guards have been used, and the need to maintain the dignity of the suspect throughout the process.
Spit guards will only be used on suspects who have already spat at officers, or who are thought to be about to spit, and only when a suspect has already been handcuffed.
David Hardcastle, Assistant Chief Constable Operations, Hampshire and Thames Valley lead on joint operations, said: “Our officers put themselves at risk every day and we want to ensure that they have the appropriate equipment to deal with the challenges they face.
“Everyone should be able to go to work without the possibility of being assaulted, including being spat at.
“The management team has listened to concerns raised by officers and the Police Federation, as well as taking on board recent recommendations from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and have taken the decision to provide them to all front line officers across the Force.”