Police are planning to issue ‘spit guards’ to all officers in South Yorkshire following trials which made them available in custody areas and to staff transporting prisoners between locations.
The mesh hoods are used to stop prisoners spitting at officers and have attracted controversy nationally.
But in South Yorkshire there were 219 incidents of officers being spat at in just under six months earlier this year, with officers using spit guards on 24 occasions as a result.
Fifteen of those incidents were in custody suites and the other nine while prisoners were in the process of being transported between locations.
The force currently has 121 custody staff and 1,326 officers trained to use the guards, with the plan to issue them to all operational officers across the force.
The use of the devices has been investigated by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings’ independent ethics panel and they are supportive of the decision.
A report to the the PCC states: “Members were assured that prior to use, each subject would be individually assessed.
“The use of a spit guard facilitates less intrusive engagement, allowing police officers still to communicate with the individual whilst he or she is wearing a spit guard.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid sanctioned the use of the guards earlier this year, though the South Yorkshire ethics panel accept their use “is not without risk”.
Each time a guard is used, a ‘use of force’ form has to be completed by the officers involved and members also noted there had been no adverse outcomes in the occasions where they had been used so far.
Police training includes a protocol for assessing the possible risks to the detainee and to ensure the guard is in place for the minimum time when they are used.
The Metropolitan Police have decided against using the devices, with concerns their use could provoke further violence against officers.
South Yorkshire Police acknowledge that training in the use of the guards will need to be constantly reviewed and the ethics panel have suggested direct communication with the public to raise awareness that they are available and the reasons for their use.