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Northern Ireland: Amnesty criticises PSNI decision to roll out spit hoods despite risk to officers and public

Policing Board has recommended spit hoods are withdrawn from use

‘The decision to roll out spit hoods, rather than withdraw them from use as advised by the Policing Board, is extraordinary.’ - Patrick Corrigan

Amnesty International has criticised a decision by the Chief Constable of the Police Service Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) to further roll out spit hoods to 4,000 more officers in the face of medical evidence that the controversial devices may increase the risk of Covid-19 infection to both police and members of the public.

Earlier this month, the Northern Ireland Policing Board recommended their immediate phasing out in its report, Review of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Response to Covid 19

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Director of Amnesty, said:

“The decision to roll out spit hoods, rather than withdraw them from use as advised by the Policing Board, is extraordinary.

“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 despite the potential increased risks of Covid spread to both officers and the public, and in 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.

“The Chief Constable has again failed to provide the necessary scientific or medical evidence to support the wider use of spit hoods. Until and unless he can, these devices must be withdrawn from use in Northern Ireland immediately.”

In a June 9th letter, the PSNI revealed to Amnesty that the manufacturers explicitly declare that spit hoods provide no protection against COVID-19 spread, stating: “The product will not prevent aerosols from coughing or sneezing and is therefore not an effective means to prevent Covid-19”.

Following this admission by the PSNI that spit hoods would not prevent Covid-19 transmission, Amnesty warned that the application of the hood could actually  increase the risk of infection for police officers, as well compromise the health of those suffering breathing difficulties as a result of the virus.

Amnesty’s policing experts warned that the process of fitting the hood, and the likely ensuing struggle would result in a ‘cloud of virus particles’ as the struggle is likely to be a ‘significant aerosol generating event’. Once placed over someone’s head, the spit hoods themselves would do nothing to prevent the further spread of the virus via coughing, sneezing or exhalation The use of spit hoods could therefore not only fail to offer the promised protection, but could in fact place police staff in greater peril.

Outside of potential risks to officer safety, Amnesty is also concerned about the potential risks of using these devices on individuals who are ill with COVID-19, or in recovery from it. It is known that COVID-19 causes severe breathing difficulties, including damage to the lungs and airways. Any use of force that can restrict or impair breathing in these circumstances therefore presents additional risks of adverse outcomes.  In addition, any struggle, panic, stress, or anxiety caused by the act of applying and using a spit hoods is likely to cause extra stress on the respiratory system irrespective of the breathability of the hood itself.

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