Officers in the North to receive spit and bite guards during pandemic

They have been used 70 times since March. Most targeted have been part of local or neighbourhood policing teams.
Officers in the North to receive spit and bite guards during pandemic

A spit guard in use. Picture: PA

All operational police officers in Northern Ireland are to be issued with spit and bite guards for the duration of the pandemic, the PSNI said.

They have been used 70 times since March. Most targeted have been part of local or neighbourhood policing teams.

The Policing Board had recommended their use cease at the end of this year.

The Policing Board had recommended their use cease at the end of this year (Niall Carson/PA)

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.”

The majority being issued with the guards will comprise local policing teams, neighbourhood policing teams, Tactical Support Group Road Policing Unit, District Support Team and Specialist Operations Branch.

Anyone receiving them must complete mandatory online training.

Officers must activate body-worn video and every use must be notified to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).

In March the chief constable decided to issue the guards to response teams, custody staff, armed officers and cell van crews.

Mr Roberts added: “This has provided a high degree of reassurance to officers and staff.”

The officers and staff currently issued with them comprise 11% of the total reported incidents within that period.

Mr Roberts said: “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.

“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.”

Police Federation for Northern Ireland chairman Mark Lindsay said they will give officers increased protection during the pandemic (Simon Graham/PFNI/PA).

Most police services in England, Scotland and Wales have been using the guards for some years.

The Policing Board had recommended that their operational use should be ceased from December 31.

A Board spokesman said: “The published report sets out in some detail the rationale and basis for the recommendation made, the importance of meeting the duty of care responsibilities to officers and staff in respect of providing a safe working environment, the protection this equipment actually delivers along with the proportionality of its use on members of the public.

“Board members will wish to discuss this decision with the chief constable at the Board meeting in December.”

Police Federation for Northern Ireland chairman 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.

“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.”

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