An ACT Policing Watch House Sergeant was allegedly spat on by a 44-year-old woman who was arrested with two others at a residence in Pearce yesterday morning (15 September).
The officer required a new uniform and may be required to undergo testing for communicable diseases, ACT Policing said in a statement.
The incident occurred after officers conducting routine patrols in the area located a stolen vehicle at a residence in Pearce.
Police said they were granted entry by the occupants of the residence where they located a 42-year-old man who had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to return to the Alexander Maconochie Centre, therefore breaching his bail.
A woman at the property was also arrested on grounds of a first instant warrant. (First instant warrants are issued by courts when a defendant has failed to appear in court on the date stipulated on either the summons or the bail agreement.)
The duo, who allegedly barricaded themselves in a bedroom and claimed they were armed, was subsequently arrested following a short negotiation.
During the arrest, police located a third man in another room who was also subject to a first instant warrant. Police then arrested him.
It’s alleged that when transported to the Watch House, the woman became increasingly agitated and violent before spitting on the Watch House Sergeant.
All three faced the ACT Magistrates Court today (16 September 2022).
The reporting of the incident follows intense scrutiny of the use of spit hoods by police in recent weeks.
In budget estimates hearings last month, police revealed they had used a spit hood on a 16-year-old who became violent and spat on officers after refusing to give up her alcohol in the city.
This prompted the ACT Greens and the ACT Human Rights Commission to call for a ban on the devices which are used in the Watch House. They are not used at the prison or the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.
ACT Greens spokesperson for police Andrew Braddock said no one should be spat on while they do their job, but he believed there were more “suitable and humane measures for police to use”, including wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) themselves.
But former and serving police officers, as well as their union, came out swinging.
Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) president Alex Caruana said police officers deserve, and have, the power to respond proportionately to a violent offender.
“If that person wasn’t acting in such a violent way and spitting at officers, they wouldn’t be [put in a spit hood],” he said.
“When was the last time you saw [an ACT Green] put their hand up to stand in the front line, to put themselves and their body in danger to deal with these people who are acting in an unsociable, violent way?”
Some detailed their experiences with being spat at while on duty and the process which followed it, including having to undergo testing for diseases.
ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan told budget estimates hearings some offenders would bite down on their cheeks so they could spit blood at officers.
The CPO said using spit hoods was rare, but exact statistics are hard to come by because their use is recorded in a broader “use of force” category. There were 972 use of force reports in 2020-21 and 1155 in 2021-22.
Both the ACT Greens and the Human Rights Commission have raised concerns about a lack of available data.
“Spit hoods can be used by ACT Policing to prevent a person in custody from spitting at or biting officers, which protects officers from the transmission of communicable diseases and sustaining other serious injuries,” a response to a question on notice said.
“Spit hoods used by ACT Policing are considered safe when used in accordance with the instructions. Any person in custody who is subject to the wearing of a spit hood is personally accompanied by an ACT Policing officer and monitored closely. Once they are placed in a holding cell, the spit hood is removed.”