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Spotlight On: Spit guards

Anti Spit Mask PPSS Ltd

Policing Insight has over a thousand in depth articles on a wide range of policing issues. In our SPOTLIGHT ON series we group articles under one subject heading allowing you quick and easy reference when you need it. Here, we tackle spit guards or hoods which have recently returned to the spotlight following the MPS' decision not to issue them to frontline officers.

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Spit hoods or guards have returned to fore after Met Commissioner Cressida Dick revealed officers would not use the equipment during an arrest although it will be used in custody. Her decision contradicts the Home Secretary who, in his speech at the Police Federation’s conference in May, backed calls for spit guards to be used in all forces, calling it ‘ridiculous’ that some officers had them while others didn’t.

More than 30 out of the 43 forces in England and Wales use spit guards, according to the MPS Federation Chair Ken Marsh. Whilst their introduction has gathered pace, forces are divided on their use. Some, such as the MPS, restrict them to custody suites while others, such as Northumbria Police, will equip all frontline and detention officers with guards after recorded data showed 341 police employees were spat at last year. Concerns remain, however, regarding their legitimacy and their effectiveness.

Rory Geoghegan: Rise in hepatitis C necessitates introduction of spit guards

Policing Insight has covered the issue of spit guards in some depth. In September 2016, Rory Geoghegan from the Centre for Public Safety argued that the general introduction of spit guards was over due given hepatitis C had doubled in London in three years and 59 per cent of London’s injecting drug users have hepatitis C.

Sandra Andrews: Officers need to be listened to for the sake of their health and well being

In her articles, CoPacc’s Sandra Andrews called for officers to be listened to, especially regarding controversial issues such as spit guards that directly affect their physical and emotional welfare. She says the media has a tendency to down play the issue. In the second of her two articles, Sandra Andrews talks to a police officer with direct experience of being spat at in a powerful piece that conveys the devastating effect it had on himself and his family. 

Holly Lynch MP: MPs must get behind chief constables on spit guards

The introduction of spit guards has received political support, most notably from Holly Lynch MP who wrote an exclusive article for Policing Insight in January 2017 calling on MPs to lend chief constables political support for spit guards. Holly Lynch also invited MPs to meet two officers who had been spat on and presented a piece of draft legislation to toughen sentences including following the Australian model where the penalty for failing to provide a blood sample for those who spit at an officer is a $12,000 fine or 12-month prison sentence.

Ian Pointon

Ian Pointon: Officers would rather be punched  than spat at

In January 2017, we ran an article airing the two sides of the debate. Ian Pointon, chair of Kent Police Federation argued spit guards offered vital protection. Officers believe spit guards reduces their use of force and he warned that if we don’t protect officers they will improvise to protect themselves which is potentially more problematic.

chris topping

Chris Topping: Police are jumping in without any thought as to how and when these guards will be used

On the other side of the debate, human rights lawyer Chris Topping believes the guards are primitive and represent the ‘far end of policing’. He questioned the lack of empirical evidence on the value of spit guards and the likelihood of contracting hepatitis C.

Graham Hooper of Canterbury Christ Church University further outlined the debate in his article for Policing Insight in February 2017 when he explored the concerns around the dehumanising effect of spit guards and whether they are too oppressive to be legitimate in a country such as ours.

As a former police officer and now lecturer in criminology at Nottingham Trent University, Dr Matt Ashby brought a unique perspective to his article which took a closer look at the evidence available in terms of whether officers are at risk of contracting a contagious disease and whether spit guards are effective at preventing officers from being spat at or merely lead to further violence.

More articles relating to spit guards

Further to our own articles, Policing Insight has a valuable database of external resources via our Media Monitor service. We summarise a few example links below but for a full list, please visit Policing Insight’s Media Monitor page and refine the search results using subject filters such as ‘spit guards’ or ‘spit hoods’.

Hopes increased reports of spitting will sway management decision on guards

Force still not issuing guards to frontline, despite Home Secretary’s intervention
Police Oracle – Subscription at source

Chairman Of Met Police Federation On Spit Hoods: “It’s A No Brainer”
Ken Marsh told Nick Ferrari spit hoods should be used by front line police because of the potential risk of infection.

Sajid Javid at odds with police chief over spit hoods
The boss of the Metropolitan Police has risked a row with Sajid Javid over the use of spit hoods by front-line cops.

Met police bars using spit guards on suspects in the street despite the Home Secretary saying it was ‘ridiculous’ the masks weren’t routinely used
Metropolitan Police Commissioner said they should only be on those in custody
Mail Online

Police won’t be allowed to use spit hoods on suspects when they’re arrested
London cops will not be able to use spit hoods on suspects during arrests on the city’s streets, Met police chief Cressida Dick has said.

Met chief Cressida Dick snubs rank and file by banning use of spit guards
Britain’s most senior police officer will not allow frontline officers to use spit guards despite their endorsement by the home secretary.
The Times – Subscription at source

MPS officers asked for ‘hard facts’ on spitting frequency
Officers are being urged to record every time they are spat at in a bid to roll out protective equipment more widely in the capital.
Police Professional

Northumbria Police defends use of controversial spit guards to protect officers from infections
Northumbria Police said the fine mesh masks which will be placed over the faces of people who spit at or try to bite officers
Chronicle Live (North East)

Northumbria Police introduce controversial ‘spit guards’ for abusive suspects
The force is start using hoods which can be placed over the heads of abusive suspects to stop officers being spat on
Chronicle Live (North East)

Picture credit: PPSS Group, a firm specialising in the design, development and manufacturing of high performance body armour and protective clothing – offering protection from firearms, edged weapons, hypodermic needles as well as blunt force trauma and human bites.

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