Controversial spit hoods rolled out further despite calls for phasing-out
Controversial spit hoods have been rolled out to thousands more PSNI officers in spite of a call from the Northern Ireland Policing Board for their use to be “phased out as soon as possible”.
Four NGOs – Amnesty International, the Children’s Law Centre, CAJ and Include Youth – have called on the Policing Board to intervene, highlighting the PSNI’s disproportionate use of spit hoods on disabled people and their use on children.
An equality impact assessment which was published by the PSNI, but now appears to have been removed from its website, states that “at least 81 per cent of uses of spit and bite guards were on a male or female with a disability, including mental health disabilities”.
The devices, which were introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, have also been used eight times on five children aged between 15 and 17 years old.
The rationale for their use has been repeatedly challenged, with the PSNI admitting last summer that the manufacturer of the Spit-Guard Pro devices it uses had acknowledged they are “not an effective means to prevent Covid-19”.
Amnesty believes the devices could in fact increase the risk of police officers contracting Covid-19 because the process of fitting the hood is likely to result in a “cloud of virus particles”, as any struggle is likely to be a “significant aerosol generating event”.
A report published by the Policing Board last November said spit and bite guards should be phased out and replaced with other personal protection equipment (PPE). “The use of spit and bite guards should … cease by 31 December 2020,” it stated.
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland programme director of Amnesty International, said: “The Chief Constable rushed to deploy spit hoods without evidence that they are effective in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. Now he is doubling down on that flawed decision, in outright defiance of the Policing Board.
“Placing a hood over someone’s head is a significant use of force and one that raises key concerns over cruel and degrading treatment, as well as serious potential health risks.
“These devices must be withdrawn from use, as called for by the Policing Board.”
Paddy Kelly, director of the Children’s Law Centre, said: “The Children’s Law Centre are extremely concerned that eight spit and bite guards were applied to children during the last year.
“In the cases of one 16 year-old and one 15 year-old, two spit and bite guards were applied during the same incident. This use of force must have been a frightening experience for these children.
“Their use on children is even more concerning given that children who come in contact with police are more likely to have a disability, mental ill-health or a learning disability. A police officer using a spit hood on a child cannot know if a child has a learning disability or suffers from asthma.
“In the light of medical evidence that the use of spit and bite hoods may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection to both police and members of the public, there can be absolutely no justification for their use on children. Spit and bite guards should be withdrawn in compliance with the Policing Board’s report of November 2020.
“We and other civil society organisations have now written to the Policing Board to ask them what steps they are taking to ensure their clear recommendation that all spit hoods by withdrawn by the end of 2020 is followed.”