PSNI to roll out spit and bite guards to all frontline officers
All operational police officers in Northern Ireland are to be issued with spit and bite guards for the duration of the pandemic, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said.
The decision follows a recommendation by the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) that their use be phased out by the end of the year due to concerns that they abused the human rights of suspects.
They were initially deployed to members of Covid-19 response teams, custody staff, armed response units and cell van crews in March 2020 to protect officers and staff from being spat at or bitten by those infected with coronavirus.
Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “After careful consideration, we have decided to issue all operational police officers with spit and bite guards as a temporary measure for the duration of the pandemic.
“We have conducted our own research into spitting and biting incidents involving our staff. This has shown the psychological impact on our police officers and police staff following a spitting and biting assault.
“Our analysis also shows that the majority of spitting and biting incidents are being reported by local policing teams and neighbourhood policing team officers. These represent 82.9 per cent of the total of reported spitting and biting incidents from January 1, 2020, to November 3, 2020. The officers and staff currently issued with spit and bite guards comprise 11.1 per cent of the total reported incidents within that period.
“Anyone being issued with spit and bite guards must complete mandatory online training. Officers must activate body-worn video when a spit and bite guard is deployed and every use of a spit and bite guard must be notified to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).
“An enhanced roll out, which will commence on December 18, fulfils the chief constable’s obligations under health and safety legislation, which requires him to provide safe systems of work for all employees.”
Mr Roberts added: “We recognise this is a sensitive issue and I want to reassure the public that human rights considerations of deploying a spit and bite guards are at the forefront of this decision.
“Each month the chief constable will continue to review his decision to issue spit and bite guards. We also inform the NIPB human rights adviser of the number of incidents when spit and bite guards have been used.”
The PSNI said spit and bite guards have been used a total of 70 times since their introduction in March and that, to date, the PONI has not received any complaints from members of the public relating their use.
Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) chair Mark Lindsay said they will give officers increased protection during the pandemic.
“The chief constable is to be congratulated for making this decision. Within the PSNI, it will be universally welcomed,” he said.
“The PFNI has consistently made the case for the wholesale introduction of spit and bite guards to all frontline officers who too often have to deal with offenders who spit at or bite them.
“I recognise this decision may be criticised by some, but I would respond by saying that our men and women have human rights too and deserve to be protected when threatened and assaulted.”