The Territory’s police used a spit hood on a 16-year-old girl who became violent with officers after refusing to give up her alcohol in the city.
This was revealed in budget estimates hearings on Monday (29 August) by ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan when questioned about the use of the devices.
Spit hoods are masks made of mesh and used to stop detainees from spitting or biting officers. They can lead to suffocation if used incorrectly.
It’s understood around 100 of the devices are in stock in the ACT Watchhouse.
South Australia is the only Australian state to have banned spit hoods. The ban was enacted in 2021 following the death of Indigenous man Wayne ‘Fella’ Morrison in custody in 2016 after he had been restrained with one.
Queensland police confirmed in budget estimates hearings earlier this month they continue to use spit hoods on minors.
CPO Gaughan said they were used “very seldomly”, but he did not have exact numbers to hand as there is no specific data collected.
He noted that between March 2020 and this month, there have been 26 reports of police being spat at or bitten.
CPO Gaughan said he had personally been spat at as an operational police officer.
“I’d rather be smacked in the mouth than spat at, to be honest. I think it’s an abhorrent act to undertake,” he told the estimates hearing.
He said spit hoods helped protect police officers and they were considered safe when used in accordance with their instructions and were not being used on children.
“Once a person’s placed in a holding cell, the spit hood is removed. Frontline operational police officers do not generally carry them. It’s a rare event that it’s used,” he told the hearing.
“As an example, we had a person in the watch house recently who was biting the inside of their mouth until such time as it started to bleed and then they spat at my officers.
“A spit hood was used in that circumstance to stop that person from spitting and then placed in the cell and the spit hood was removed.”
The CPO took on notice whether the devices had been used on anyone younger than the aforementioned 16-year-old girl.
Greens spokesperson for police and emergency services Andrew Braddock raised concerns about the lack of reporting available for the use of spit hoods after CPO Gaughan said it would be included in the same category as instances of using handcuffs and capsicum spray.
“It would require manual interrogation for us – basically going through every case to determine in what instances spit hoods have been used,” he said.
Mr Braddock encouraged the government and police to explore other measures in the ACT, noting Tasmania had moved to use personal protective equipment instead of spit hoods.
“No one should be spat upon while they do their job, but there are more suitable and humane measures for police to use. Spit hoods are dangerous, degrading devices that restrict breathing,” Mr Braddock said.
“Spit hoods are not used in most places in Australia because they are traumatic and potentially lethal devices. They have been implicated in the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in custody across Australia.”
ACT Policing said a number of considerations are given before any type of restraint is used on a person in custody.
That includes the safety of the person in custody, the safety of others (including other persons in custody), threats made to expel bodily fluid, the recorded history of spitting, aggressive or threatening behaviour, the likelihood of injury to any person and the circumstances of the incident.