Leicestershire  Police Federation

Spit guards: the choice is simple, says Fed chair

4 March 2019

Leicestershire Police Federation chair Dave Stokes has praised the national Federation chair for challenging the human rights organisation Liberty over ‘ill-informed’ comments on spit guards.

Dave spoke out after John Apter published an open letter to Liberty in which he wrote: “The act of spitting phlegm or blood, or biting an officer is degrading and disgusting. The police have a duty of care to protect the public and the use of spit guards does not just protect officers but also protects members of the public.  My advice to those who don’t want to have a spit guard applied is don’t spit or bite, it’s quite simple.”

The national chair’s comments came after Liberty issued a statement about the roll-out of spit guards by police forces across England and Wales.

Liberty said: “At least 30 police forces in England & Wales now use spit hoods. They are dangerous, degrading and unjustified. They have no place in the future of policing and must be relegated to the past.”

However, Dave has argued that while he understands some of the concerns around the use of spit guards, which were introduced in Leicestershire last year, they are an essential piece of kit providing protection to officers subjected to degrading attacks by people who spit at, and bite, them.

Dave explains: “I fully supported the issue and use of the guards. I was delighted because our Chief Constable was proactive and provided the training and agreed to issue the guards last year.

“Our chief officer team have said that they will not tolerate officers and staff being assaulted and I think this is an example of that support.  However, in our Force, the use of spit guards is under tight scrutiny and every officer has body-worn video to show their use.  They are used where a detained subject is spitting at officers.

“The alternative, not having the guards, means police officers and other emergency service workers are subjected to bodily fluids being spat in their face. It’s degrading and an assault. Surely this is not fair in anyone’s eyes, no-one should be exposed to this.

“I totally understand that unless you have seen the spit guards and understand the strict training that is provided to officers, there may be some members of the public who might question their use. But I’ve seen one of our officers use the spit guard. The subject had spat at officers several times and was warned three times before the guard was placed on him. It was removed as soon as he had been placed into a mobile cell. 

“The spit guards we use are a see through piece of netting material . They are not enclosed like a hood and do not restrict any airway flow. During training, I have worn one and felt no discomfort and could see through the guard.” 

John has invited Liberty to attend a training session on the use of spit guards and to discuss the issue further but so far the offer has not been taken up.

He has also pointed out the effectiveness of spit guards, telling Liberty: “Prior to spit guards being issued, a person who was biting or spitting at officers would either be put on the ground or restrained with their head forced down. The application of a spit guard uses less force and prevents the act of spitting or biting from continuing. Officers will always have to justify their use. Your blanket statement that spit guards must not be used offered no alternative, it would either be use more force or for the officer to allow themselves to be spat at or bitten.

“I have heard some say that police officers should try to talk to the offender to prevent them from spitting or biting. I’m afraid the real world is not that simple and many of those individuals we deal with are violent and would use any opportunity to inflict harm on a police officer.”

Read the national chair’s letter in full.