POLICE officers in Christchurch will be armed with special guards to protect them from being spat on or bitten.
Up until now the constabulary was against issuing officers with the hood-type devices, which would be placed over suspects’ heads. Critics claimed they could cause a suspect to panic or make it difficult to notice if those wearing them were having difficulty breathing.
Made from a see-through, breathable material, the hoods can only be used once.
One of those previously opposed to their use was Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill. In the past he said he preferred to deter people spitting at officers by making new laws to toughen the punishment for doing so.
However, Mr Underhill said this week he had reconsidered the idea after being given assurances by Dorset Chief Constable.
“I have, in the past voiced genuine concerns over the use of spit guards,” Mr Underhill conceded, adding the principle that officers should not be spat at or bitten was “beyond dispute”.
He went on: “I am, however, reassured by the chief constable that there will be full and comprehensive training for all officers under the College of Policing National Personal Safety Manual with regard to the use of the guards, and that the guidance in that manual will be strictly adhered to.”
Announcing the move to issue the hoods to officers from December, Dorset Police pointed out it will be one of 24 forces nationwide that deploy spit and bite guards (SBGs) in operational and detention settings to protect officers and staff.
It highlighted the government had expressed support for the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill, which suggests doubling the maximum penalty available for assaults on emergency workers, including spitting.
“This sends a clear message that attacks on emergency workers will not be tolerated,” the force stated. “This is supported across the Alliance, with the recent launch of the #unacceptable campaign, working with our partners to spread this important message in our communities.”
Justifying the decision, Dorset Police Chief Superintendent Colin Searle said: “The introduction of this kit is vital to support officer and staff safety. Biting and spitting is a vile act and the new SBGs will provide additional protection to help keep everyone safe.”
He pointed out such assaults could have distressing implications for officers and staff and it was important they have the right equipment to keep them safe.
Ch. Supt Searle continued: “Dorset Police need to ensure the safeguarding of those in our care who need to be fitted with an SBG, with particular consideration to those who are vulnerable or with mental health needs.”
The hoods have been used by Hampshire Police officers since February 2017 after the force claimed there had been a rise in the number of its officers being assaulted.
The guards have drawn accusations of being inhumane from rights groups, including Liberty – which has called them “cruel and degrading” as well as “primitive”.