The Case For Spit Hoods

Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about the police using spit hoods on a very small number of detainees.

This has culminated in the campaign group, Liberty, criticising the police for using them at all saying that there is no case to do so and they are inhumane and degrading. They go so far as to say that the argument for spit hoods is “far fetched.”

Sadly, it is not far fetched and you only have to look at the tragic case of Arina Koltsova for evidence.

Arina was a Ukrainian officer who made an arrest. The suspect deliberately spat in her face during this arrest. She contracted tuberculosis and died.

This is not far fetched.

The Mayor of London has now intervened and prevented the Met from the planned issue of spit hoods to its officers. This is despite previous liaison and discussion with the community and advisory groups.

The police in any country, and the U.K. is no exception, deal with a lot of people who have made poor or unfortunate life choices. Many are ill through alcoholism or drug use and a number have contracted serious untreatable and communicable diseases as a result. Such as Hepatitis or HIV. These are easily transmitted by bodily fluids and it’s why officers routinely wear gloves when dealing with blood and searches.

As bizarre and unbelievable a concept it may seem, there are some people who, when arrested, resist and threaten to infect the officers on purpose. I know because I have seen it many times.

I know because I have seen colleagues who have been spat on or received deliberate needle stick injuries go through the agonising wait for blood tests to see if they have been infected after such an incident.

Contracting HIV, TB, Hepititis or any form of communicable disease is not an acceptable condition of employment in the police. It is not “one of those things”. It is not “part and parcel of the risk”

Believe it or not – police officers have human rights as well.

If someone deliberately spits at an officer knowing they have a fatal illness then the charge would be attempted murder.

This is right up there along with being threatened with a knife, gun or other lethal weapon.

Lest you believe that this is rare, I am informed that 8 officers were hospitalised for tests following spitting incidents during the Notting Hill Carnival weekend alone.

Officers have the right to be protected and forces are obliged to protect them.

Not every detainee has such a condition. Not every detainee spits. Not every detainee threatens to infect officers. Not every detainee is put in a spit hood.

In truth – very few are. It tends to be the ones who spit or threaten to do so. Otherwise there is no case for putting one on.

I can understand that the concept of hooding a prisoner carries many unpleasant connotations but the spit hoods are a step forward from the blanket or jacket which used to be used before they were invented.

The spit hoods are gauze and see-through. Vision may be impaired but it is not denied. Air can flow freely – fluids cannot. It seems an ideal solution.

This is what one looks like

The alternative is for all officers engaged in a restraint situation with a spitting detainee to don protective gear themselves.

Whilst the gauze does not prevent vision it does, as I said above, obscure it slightly and if you are the one trying to control a situation then impaired vision is not compatible.

Here are some additional pictures courtesy of @west_response on Twitter

Some health trusts issue these for the STAFF to wear

But they are likely to come off easily and besides which they do not protect any of the rest of the body from possible infection. If the officer has an unseen cut themselves then the risk is not mitigated by them wearing a visor.

The risk IS mitigated if the detainee cannot project spit.

These situations develop very rapidly and explosively and need to be resolved quickly. There isn’t time for officers to stop – kit up in full protective gear and restart.

So far – many of the critics of spit hoods have not come up with a plan B. Some have even simply said it is for the police to come up with an alternative.

I truly don’t know what that might be.

The facts in this matter are very simple. Police officers and staff deserve and have every right to be protected from catching communicable diseases at work. These are potentially transmitted in the most unusual of circumstances.

It’s not a case of wearing gloves and bleaching things after contact. We are talking here about people who may wish to deliberately infect an officer with a fatal or life changing disease. Or they may threaten to do so.

It is not possible to look at someone from the outside and determine whether they actually present a health risk. What you are looking at is someone who is spitting at you – deliberately – and there should be no question about mitigating that risk.

The most concerning thing about Liberty’s statement about spit hoods is that there is not one word of condemnation for the people who do the spitting. Their very strong and evocative criticism is reserved for the police who are simply trying to protect themselves.

These things are rarely used and should only be used in specific circumstances. If they have been inappropriately used then let us look at those cases but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

We are in danger of losing the debate before it’s even started. This could be TASER all over again.

Once the seed of doubt is sown it is very hard to rise about the hysteria.

A wise person once told me that when something contentious happens “if you do not communicate then someone else will fill the void.”

Clearly, we have passed the point of contention so the various police associations – The Fed, The Supers, The NPCC and the College of Policing really do now need to very quickly fill the void with facts and science.

Only a unified and rapid response will do.

Police are already on the back foot and emotive words like “cruel and inhumane” are already into the debate.

I have included some science here which was circulated from this tweet

This is no time for stoic silence. There is a debate to be had and an argument to be won. It needs to be done quickly, factually  and dispassionately.

The lives of police officers and staff depend upon it.


3 responses to “The Case For Spit Hoods”

  1. Steve Smith says :

    Where on earth on the belt/vest is an officer to carry a full face shield, and then attempt to put, and keep it on, whilst struggling with a detainee?

    I suspect a case could be made that where there is an incidence or noticeable risk of spitting the provision of hoods by the force, and use of them by the officer is mandated under H&S legislation. Wonder if there is a liberty/human rights lawyer willing to make a test case of that?

  2. korhomme says :

    I’m not a cop, but I worked in NHS A&E Depts for many years. People there could be unpleasant and vicious, but I guess not so much as they would be to you. We were very aware of bites and needlesticks etc. Spitting wasn’t a problem in my time, though that was some years ago.

    Getting an untreatable/incurable illness as a result of an assault – for a deliberate spit is an assault – is not an acceptable risk. HIV can be treated but not cured. There are multi-resistant strains of TB. Hepatitis can be treated but not cured. A lifelong illness is not an acceptable risk for carers or cops – and ‘lifelong’ may well mean a shortened lifespan.

    Liberty is wrong in this instance; much as I dislike the whole concept of spit hoods, protection of officers (and any one else) outweighs my objections.

  3. Retired says :

    A lot of this is due to ‘Middle England’ simply refusing to believe that people behave in such a manner to require a spit hood.. I have had many a conversation with otherwise sensible members of the middle class who cannot comprehend that there is a class of people who will resort to violence, threats and other vile behaviour and who react like a two year old when someone has the temerity to say ‘no’ to them. When they do meet such a person they are shocked to the core to realise that saying ‘don’t be silly’ does not work. They have rarely experienced or used physical force in their lives and they do not like seeing force used by the police, hence the shouts of ‘why does it need so many of you’ and so on.
    The policing environment has changed immeasurably since I retired in 2008. In my latter years of service I was regularly dispatching specialist units to deal with ‘dirty protests’ etc. I can say that as a PC and PS working in busy areas in London in the 70’s and 80’s we rarely encountered people who spat at police – I’m sure if they spat at police it was only the once.
    The police are losing the debate – the press will use quotes from wherever to prove a point and a general hatred and disdain for the service has been fostered by the political/media class. As I say, you get the police you deserve and what we are heading for is a police service that will be reluctant to use legitimate force. Still, G4$. Sodexo or whatever will be much better, won’t they?

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