John Apter, the Chairman of the Police Federation of England & Wales, which represents 120,000 police officers, has written an open letter to Liberty, the human rights campaign group, after they published an article calling for ‘spit hoods’ to be ‘relegated to the past’.
In the article, shared on 21st February, a spokesperson for Liberty said:
‘Two weeks ago, the Metropolitan Police backtracked on previous commitments and joined the growing number of forces rolling out spit hoods to officers on the streets.
‘These tightly meshed sack-like hoods – pulled over people’s heads with the intention of protecting police from spitting – are distressing, degrading and potentially lethal.
‘And justifications for their use do not stand up to scrutiny.
‘Being hooded can be a panic-inducing and dehumanising experience.
‘In 2016, the British Transport Police pinned a young black man to the floor and placed a spit hood over his head.
‘Footage filmed by a bystander showed the man in extreme distress.
‘He later said he felt he had been “treated like a dog” and the Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation into the incident‘
‘Spit hoods impair police officers’ ability to identify medical conditions and notice distress or pain.
‘Moreover, they are designed to block spit, vomit, blood or other substances escaping them. So when a wearer discharges a substance into the hood, the breathability of the fabric dramatically drops and the risk of suffocation rises..’
The article was shared on the @LibetyHQ twitter page and has attracted a considerable response from police officers, both current and former, all around the country:
In the tweets which we saw, Liberty did not make any comment in relation to the points which were being raised by the police officers who had responded to the Liberty article.
The article also went on to say that:
‘Being hooded by the police is traumatic, and using spit hoods against vulnerable groups is particularly disturbing.’
In response to the article, Police Federation Chairman, John Apter, wrote:
‘On the 21st February Liberty put out the following statement about the police roll out of spit guards.
“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.”
‘I responded to that statement offering Liberty to give an alternative to their use, attend a training session in their use and to have a discussion about their statement. Liberty has failed to respond to this request.
‘Therefore I feel I need to speak for the 120,000 dedicated police officers who I represent to bring some balance to your statement. To clarify there are far more than 30 forces using spit guards, almost every one of the 43 Home Office forces issue this equipment to their officers. Of those a handful only use them within their custody suites, the rest issue them to all their frontline officers.
‘Being spat at is a disgusting and vile act, many of those who do this will use their spit or blood as a weapon, that is the reality of what my colleagues have to deal with.
‘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.
‘In your statement you claim that the use of spit guards are dangerous and can be attributed to a number of deaths. The examples you use are from the USA, where like Taser, spit guards are used in a very different way. The training given to officers ensures the detained persons safety is a priority.
‘The personal impact of being spat at or bitten must not be underestimated. There are many police officers who have to undertake intrusive anti-viral treatment as a result of being spat at or bitten. This impacts on them and their families. I am sure any reasonable person would say we must do all we can to prevent the need for this?
‘The statement you made about spit guards being dangerous and unjustified are sweeping and do not stand up to scrutiny. 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.
‘My offer to Liberty stands, I would urge you to attend a training session where police officers are trained in the use of spit guards. Meet with me to discuss their use and meet officers who have been spat at and had to wait months to put their minds at rest. That is a genuine offer.
‘I stand by my support for the full roll out of spit guards to all police officers. This essential piece of equipment protects officers against those vile individuals. Their use is proportionate and safer than any alternative, it protects those who protect the public. They deserve this and your flawed and biased opinion gives no credible alternative.’
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