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Posted on 09:39:00 on 11th January 2019

Police in Cumbria are being supplied with spit guards to offer extra protection from attack after officers carrying out their duties were spat at every three days on average last year.


The constabulary is joining the majority of forces across the UK in adopting the use of the nationally-approved see-through and breathable, hygienic guards to ensure officers protecting the people and communities of the county are kept as safe as possible.


Cumbria officers reported being spat at – or on – 120 times last year (figures up to December 12, 2018).


This type of attack can cause stress, distress and fear - impacting badly on officers’ professional and private lives.


Saliva and blood in saliva can host a variety of diseases, bacteria and viruses.


Officers spat at in some circumstances may have to wait up to six months to make sure they have not been infected.


The use of spit protection is approved by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and has the backing of Cumbria Police Federation, the staff association representing rank-and-file officers.


The loose-fitting and net-like material is placed over the head of a suspect
when there is a risk of spitting, with officers explaining to them the reasons for using one.


The guards do not restrict breathing and are designed to maintain clear visibility for the wearer.


They are being rolled out to
all operational officers within the coming months.


Officers are being fully trained in their safe and proportionate use before being issued with them.


Chief Inspector Andy Wilkinson said: “Nobody goes to work to be assaulted – and nobody acting in their professional role should be expected to tolerate being spat at.


“Spitting is a horrible type of assault.


“Cumbria Constabulary has a duty to help protect those on the frontline, who work hard for their communities and put themselves at risk, in the best way it can.


“I’m aware of officers who have also had blood spat at them.


“Spitting has serious potential health risks as bodily fluids can host a variety of diseases.


“Sometimes we have cases where officers have had fluids spat at them and the person has known they have infectious diseases and viruses.


“The impact of being spat at by someone who could be carrying an infectious disease can also not be underestimated.


“The national increase in violent crime shows the need for these guards to help keep our officers safe as they work hard to protect the public and solve and deter crime.”


Chief Insp Wilkinson added: “We have carried out an in-depth piece of work into their use and determined they have significant benefits and are a safe and pragmatic tactic.


“In England and Wales, 37 of the 43 forces have already adopted the use of a type of spit protection device.


“Police Scotland and British Transport Police have also adopted this equipment.


“So use of these spit guards is becoming common practice across police forces in the UK.


“Officers will be issued with a spit guard once they have been fully trained in their safe, proportionate and effective use.”


Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said: “It is vital that we ensure that our officers are protected so they can continue to keep our communities safe.  


“The simple message to send to anyone who would wish not to be placed in a spit guard is very simple - don’t spit at or bite police officers or indeed anyone else.


“Spitting and biting is a deliberate, disgusting and nasty form of assault which shows a complete lack of respect.


“It can affect officers both physically and mentally, often leading to months of anxiety for them and their families as results from invasive tests for diseases are carried out.


“No-one should be subjected to such a vile form of assault.


“Whilst the introduction of spit guards is an operational decision for the chief constable to make, I am pleased that Mrs Skeer has done so and she has my absolute support - as do the officers who face assault on the streets whilst keeping us all safe.”


Martin Plummer, chairman of Cumbria Police Federation, said: “The Federation fully supports the constabulary for providing officers with the opportunity to utilise a piece of equipment that will protect themselves and the public, should the need arise, from some vile individuals who feel it is appropriate to spit at officers as they carry out their duties.”

 

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SPIT GUARDS FACTFILES

           
WHY ADOPT THEM?

·       Cumbria officers have reported being spat at, or on, 120 times up to December 12.

·       Saliva can host a variety of diseases, bacteria and viruses.

·       Being spat on can also cause stress, distress and fear, impacting badly on officers’ professional and private lives.

·       Being spat on is an assault.

·       Nobody acting in their professional role should be expected to tolerate being deliberately assaulted.

SPIT GUARDS - ALREADY IN USE ACROSS THE UK

·       The use of spit protection is approved by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

·       It is regarded as an appropriate tactical option to give officers protection from spitting and to reduce the effects of biting.

·       The spit guard is designed to maintain clear visibility for the wearer as well as unrestricted eye contact.

·       This helps to avoid panic and prevent escalation of the situation.

·       In England and Wales, 37 of the 43 forces have already adopted the use of a type of spit protection device. Police Scotland and British Transport Police have also adopted this equipment.

·       Closer to home, Lancashire and Northumbria have already adopted spit guard use.

             WHAT EXACTLY IS A SPIT GUARD – AND HOW DO THEY WORK?

·       It is a single use, mesh fabric hood, with a low-density polythene front panel.

·       They are placed over the head of the person wearing them.

·       It does not restrict the wearer’s breathing.

·       The mesh allows officers to monitor those wearing it.

·       The polythene panel keeps the front of the hood clear of the wearer’s mouth.

·       Officers will explain to the subject the reasons for using a guard.

·       Subjects wearing a spit guard should be constantly monitored.

·       No officer will be given a spit guard until they have been trained.

·       On removal, the polythene panel contains any expelled liquids inside the masks, which helps with their hygienic disposal.

·       The spit guards, when ordered in quantities of 1,000, cost £1.89 each.

·       They will be carried in the pouches in officers’ stab proof vests – or in the pockets of cargo pants.

 

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