Spit guards hotly debated at Police Federation conference
The need for police officers to protect themselves from being spat at was hotly debated at the Police Federation Annual Conference.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told delegates in Birmingham that she is not against spit guards “in principle” but refused to say whether she would back their use by forces. The conference heard that around half the forces in England and Wales currently use spit guards.
Ms Abbott (pictured) was quizzed by delegates on the use of spit guards, which officers say will protect them from the risk of contracting infections such as Hepatitis C, having previously been an outspoken critic of their use.
While conceding that she would not rule them out “in principle” Ms Abbott said: “I have got that sense from the audience today, that spit hoods is a complex subject; there’s health and safety, there’s health, there is a whole range of issues.
“I am looking at the evidence and continue to look at the evidence, I await the result of the trial by the Met.
“I will be working closely with the Mayor of London and deputy mayor on this.”
However, Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation told her: “I cannot believe some of the things you have been saying. We need a commitment on this, please, we need them.”
802 Met Police officers have been spat by criminals in the past year – with 106 requiring hospital treatment. 42 police officers were spat at at the Notting Hill Carnival alone – with 4 needing to go to hospital.
The issue was also discussed in a session on #ProtectTheProtectors, during which one officer described being spat at.
“I had spit dripping off my face,” he said. “It was disgusting.”
Delegates also heard one officer recall being spat at 24 times in a single day.
The session was led by Nick Smart, Chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, who has been working with MPs to try to change legislation for those convicted of assaulting officers.
One of the issues he has been campaigning on is the introduction of spit guards as a piece of personal protective equipment for officers.
He said: “Our officers are becoming society’s punchbags. There is no deterrent. If there is no deterrent, how are people going to change their behaviour?
“We’ve got to have a deterrent or people are not going to stop what they are doing.
“The vast majority of MPs believe officers should be protected. We have drafted legislation for the Home Office on police assaults – it’s ready to go.”
Labour’s Holly Lynch added: “To assault a police officer shows complete disregard for law and order.
“We [MPs] make the laws and we ask you to uphold those laws. If you are not safe, our communities are not safe.”
Calum Macleod, Vice-Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said assaulting police officers should be as socially unacceptable as drink driving.