Spit and bite guards
We think that police officers should have the necessary and appropriate kit and equipment to do their jobs, and this includes spit and bite guards.
Some forces have made spit and bite guards available to frontline officers and we are keen to see the protective measure more widely available, forming part of our Protect The Protectors campaign.
Spitting is an abhorrent form of assault, with some officers saying they would 'prefer to be punched in the face than spat at'. Though the likelihood of catching a disease from being spat at is low, the effects of being spat at for an officer can be long term, as they may need to undergo anti-viral treatment and have the uncertainty of infection - currently the assailant is not required by law to give a blood sample which would let officers know if they are at risk of contracting life-threatening diseases. This can obviously have a big impact on their day-to-day life at this time and mental health.
Potentially fatal infections such as tuberculosis can be transmitted by spitting as well as blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV if the assailant has blood in their mouth. The number of hepatitis C cases nationwide has doubled in the past decade, and in London 59% of injecting drug users – a demographic police will regularly come into contact with – have the disease, which can lead to severe liver damage and liver cancer.
The National AIDS Trust provides guidance for police forces on HIV as well as general information on HIV and AIDS.
What are spit and bite guards?
Spit and bite guards, made from a loose-fitting, lightweight mesh fabric, are placed over a person's head to help minimise the risks of communicable diseases (blood borne viruses (BBV)) and injuries associated with spitting and biting.
There are a small number of commercially available products that are designed for this purpose and each is manufactured from a fine, translucent mesh that doesn't impede the person's breathing or impinge significantly on their senses.
Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner Marc Jones tried one on and said: "I spent 15 minutes in a spit guard to see what it felt like; can't say I minded it too much. The other option of course is not to spit at police officers."
The use of spit and bite guards was approved by the Association of Chief Police Officers (now the National Police Chiefs' Council) in 2007 by virtue of their inclusion within the National Personal Safety Manual. The Centre for Public Safety is also in support of spit and bite guards, 'a protective and preventative measure that is overdue'.
What is being done to make spit and bite guards more available to officers?
The decision on whether or not to make spit and bite guards available to officers is down to individual chiefs, therefore we have been pushing the NPCC to encourage their use. In August 2016, ACC Tim Jacques, chair of the NPCC portfolio for Health, Safety and Welfare, wrote to all chief constables recommending that forces give serious consideration to providing the guards to all frontline officers. We continue to work with the NPCC on the issue.
How many forces use spit and bite guards?
As of June 2017, a total of 25 of the 43 forces we represent have approved the use of spit and bite guards. A number of forces have made the guards available to frontline officers in the last year, including Thames Valley, Hampshire and West Midlands.
In addition, we are calling for a wider roll-out of other essential pieces of kit including Taser and body-worn video.
The Centre for Public Safety lay out the case for protecting police officers against infectious diseases and highlight that spit guards are a protective and preventative measure that is overdue.