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UK: Police spit hoods may increase risk of Covid-19 spread and should not be used to police pandemic

Amnesty secures police admission that spit hoods offer no significant protection against COVID-19 and may actually increase infection risk

Amnesty calls on Police Federation to retract recommendation that every officer should carry spit hoods during pandemic and suspend roll-out

Data shows restraint devices, including spit hoods are 4 times more likely to be used on black people

‘Spit hoods could actually be seen as an un-safety device’ – Oliver Feeley-Sprague

Amnesty International is calling for the suspension of the use of spit hoods in policing in the UK following the explosive admission that they provide no protection from COVID-19.

A spit hood is a controversial restraint device about which Amnesty has previously raised human rights concerns including the risk that they may restrict breathing and cause extreme distress to the wearer.

In April, a representative of the Police Federation told the Home Affairs Select Committee that spit hoods should be “in the pocket of every single police officer” to protect from the “appalling weaponisation of COVID-19 by some individuals,” a recommendation which was subsequently endorsed by the committee.

Amnesty engaged in detailed correspondence with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) where a further roll-out of spit hoods was justified on the grounds of providing increased protection against contracting COVID-19 to policing staff. However, following questioning by Amnesty of the suitability and effectiveness of spit hoods in providing protection, it has now been established that spit hoods, particularly the Spit Guard Pro model, the most widely-used spit hood within UK policing, does not protect against the transmission of COVID-19, contrary to claims that these devices should be made widely available. The PSNI revealed to Amnesty that the manufacturers explicitly declare that spit hoods provide no protection against COVID-19spread, stating: “The product will not prevent aerosols from coughing or sneezing and is therefore not an effective means to prevent Covid-19.”

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.

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s policing expert, said:

“Spitting and threats to infect people are abhorrent, but spit hoods are not PPE and could put officers in greater peril. This new admission from the manufacturers that the devices will not stop the spread of this deadly virus is startling, especially for any police officers who might have previously been under the impression that these devices would help keep them safe.

“The pandemic has been used as cover to roll out these controversial constraint devices, but we would urge Police Commissioners and Chief Constables to look again at the dangers posed to everyone involved.

“Spit hoods could actually be seen as an un-safety device and Police Chiefs should make it crystal clear to all their officers spit hoods do not offer any protection from COVID-19 transmission or infection. Police forces across the UK should now withdraw them from use in possible or suspected cases of COVID.”

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.

It is for these reasons Amnesty International believe that spit hoods are not a suitable tool for policing COVID-19and should not be issued to officers managing infection and transmission risk.

Amnesty is writing to Police Constables asking for clarity over the deployment of spit hoods as the organisation warned about concerns over ‘Policing the Pandemic’ across Europe, where BAME people have been disproportionately targeted.  Restraint devices, including spit hoods are 4 times more likely to be used on black people.

Policing the pandemic

The calls for an end to the use of spit hoods comes as Amnesty has releases a new report exposing how police enforcing COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe have disproportionately targeted ethnic minority and marginalised groups with violence, discriminatory identity checks, forced quarantines and fines.

Policing the pandemic covers 12 European countries and exposes a disturbing pattern of racial bias which is linked to concerns about institutional racism within police forces, and echoes wider concerns raised in the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.


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