As a result of the COVID19 Pandemic and the associated potential dangers for officers and staff dealing with persons who may spit or bite, in March 2020 the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland made a decision to temporarily issue Spit and Bite Guards to COVID19 Response Teams, Custody Staff, Armed Response Unit and Cell Van Crews. This has provided a high degree of reassurance to officers and staff.
Following their introduction in March, a working group was established to examine the evidence of their impact and use within the organisation.
Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts from Operational Support Department explains; “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% of the total of reported spitting and biting incidents from 1 January 2020 to 3 November 2020. The officers and staff currently issued with Spit and Bite Guards comprise 11.1%* of the total reported incidents within that period.
“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.
“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 18th December fulfils the Chief Constable’s obligations under Health and Safety legislation which requires him to provide safe systems of work for all employees.
“We recognise this is a sensitive issue and I want to reassure the public that human rights considerations of deploying a Spit and Bite Guard are at the forefront of this decision.
“We also want to ensure that ‘the rights of the child’ under the legal framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) are referred to in our current Policy.
“As such we have also amended our Policy on the use of Spit and Bite Guards to strengthen the message about the use of the Guard on children over 10 and on vulnerable people. That Policy will now state;
“Where officers or staff are already aware that a member of the public is vulnerable by way of age (under 18), mental health or other debilitating condition, which the use of a Spit and Bite Guard could exacerbate, the presumption will be that a Spit and Bite Guard should not be used.”
“Each month the Chief Constable will continue to review his decision to issue Spit and Bite Guards. We also inform the Northern Ireland Policing Board Human Rights Advisor of the number of incidents when Spit and Bite Guards have been used.
“Spit and Bite Guards have been used a total of 70 times since their introduction on the 16th March. To date PONI has not received any complaints from members of the public relating to the use of Spit and Bite Guards.
“The vast majority of police services in England, Scotland and Wales have been using Spit and Bite Guards for some years.
“Since the introduction of Spit and Bite Guards in March we have engaged with our key stakeholders and will be conducting a full Equality Impact Assessment into the general issue of Spit and Bite Guards in a non-Covid environment.”
*Breakdown of figures
Covid Crew – 4.8%
Armed Response Unit- 1.2%
Custody staff – 5.1%
The majority of officers being issued with Spit and Bite Guards will comprise of:
Local Policing Teams, Neighbourhood Policing Teams, Tactical Support Group
Road Policing Unit, District Support Team and Specialist Operations Branch.