Controversial ‘spit hoods’ could be used by police across West Yorkshire as part of plans to reduce the number of ‘disgusting’ attacks on officers.
West Yorkshire Police is consulting on plans to allow its frontline officers to use the mesh fabric spit hoods, which are already being deployed by officers working in custody suites.
The body representing rank and file officers in the county says the wider use of the hoods “cannot come soon enough” though critics, including campaign group Liberty says they are cruel and degrading
It comes after Humberside Police announced in April that officers at its Clough Road police station and custody suite in Hull would be able to use the hoods as a three-month pilot.
In a statement, West Yorkshire Police told The Yorkshire Post that the force is “committed to trying to protect its officers from harm and assault while carrying out their duties and this includes providing them with available equipment for their protection”.
A spokesman said spit and bite guards are one such piece of equipment and were introduced in custody areas in West Yorkshire in 2013. The force is now consulting on the potential wider roll-out and use of these protective devices by front line officers.
Deputy Chief Constable John Robins said: “No police officer should be spat at and we are determined to do all we can to protect our staff from such a disgusting form of assault.
“The use of a Spit and Bite Guard on someone under arrest is not something which is done lightly and it must always be a proportionate, appropriate and justifiable in response to their behaviour and actions.
“The use of a Spit and Bite Guard would now be captured on Body Worn Video and each and every use will be reviewed by a senior officer.”
According to a report by senior officers on the use of force, training on the use of the hoods will take place at the annual officer safety training refresher course.
It said: “Any officer who uses a guard for a spitting incident will be subject of review by a senior officer at district who is the duty operational commander. The progress of use of the guards will be reviewed and will be reported to the Gold group chaired by [Deputy Chief Constable John] Robins.”
The Police Federation has been lobbying for spit hoods and says around a quarter of all police assaults involve being spat at, posing a serious health risk to officers.
It was claimed in March that there had been a 40 per cent increase in the number of assaults on police officers in West Yorkshire last year.
According to the Police Federation, officers who are spat at are at risk of catching diseases such as hepatitis C and tuberculosis, and many face a anxious wait to see if they have been infected.
Nick Smart, chairman of the West Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, said: “For us, this cannot come soon enough. While this is happening officers are still being assaulted and spat at.”
Last year, a Freedom of Information Act request by the BBC revealed that the mesh fabric spit hoods are used by 17 of the UK’s 49 police forces.
Since 2011 they have been used at least 2,486 times - in 635 cases on people with suspected mental health issues.