1 September 2022

Tears, stress, anxiety and fear: police share harrowing details of being spat at on the beat

| Lottie Twyford
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AFP officer

Police officers have shared exactly what it entails to be spat at on the job following discussions of a ban on spit hoods this week. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Six months of blood tests while waiting to determine if you’ve contracted a disease.

Half a year of uncertainty, anxiety and stress while waiting to find out whether you could be at risk of passing on a disease to your loved ones.

That’s the reality for police officers who are spat at. And the “abhorrent act” of spitting at police is not as rare as you might think.

In the 18 months between March 2020 and August 2021, 26 police officers reported being spat at or bitten in the course of their duties. Offenders have been known to bite the inside of their mouths so they can spit blood at the arresting officer.

In 2009, former AFP officer Jason Taylor arrested an offender. It was a pretty routine day on the job.

But the offender had a face covered in blood when he decided to spit in Jason’s face.

“He then gleefully informed me he had Hepatitis C,” he said.

“Six months of blood tests to ensure I didn’t have anything. The stress was immense.”

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Mr Taylor was one of several police officers who shared their stories with Region – many on the condition of anonymity – following calls earlier this week for a ban on spit hoods from the ACT Greens and the Human Rights Commission.

Graham* has a similar story.

During the arrest of a known recidivist offender on breach of bail, who was officially confirmed as positive for hepatitis, Graham was spat at.

“He coughed up the biggest phlegm ball and spat it directly in my face. A large amount of it ended up in my mouth and eyes,” he said.

“Given the fact he was known to have the disease, it led to six months of health uncertainty which had a large impact on my mental health. It also affected my relationship with my partner at the time.”

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Graham said he worried every single day for six months that he had caught a disease.

“The ACT Greens should be ashamed. They wouldn’t know the trauma of having to have regular blood tests to find out if your life expectancy has been shortened … or the fear that if you intimately touch your partner you may transmit a disease.

“They weren’t there for those discussions and tears.”

Graham acknowledged the expert advice that hepatitis C is not transmitted via spit, but he also wagered the ACT Greens wouldn’t be game enough to line up to be spat at by people with hepatitis as part of a science experiment.

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Earlier this week, it was revealed in estimates hearings police officers had used a spit hood on a 16-year-old girl who became violent after refusing to give up her alcohol in the city.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan took on notice to find out how many times spit hoods had been used. He said that data was not readily available as using a spit hood wasn’t recorded in a separate category from the use of other restraints.

The devices are used at the ACT Watchhouse and can be used by police officers on the beat. They are not used at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre or the prison.

CPO Gaughan told the hearing the hoods, which are placed over a detainee’s head to stop them from spitting or biting, are safe as long as they are used correctly.

But the ACT Greens, the Human Rights Commission and First Nations advocacy group Change the Record disagree. They’ve called for alternatives like face shields to be used instead.

Greens spokesperson for police Andrew Braddock hopes to bring debate on a ban to the Assembly before the end of this year.

South Australia became the first state to ban spit hoods last year after a device was implicated in the death of Aboriginal man Wayne ‘Fella’ Morrison while in custody in 2016.

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The police union has come out swinging against the calls for a ban and has accused the HRC of helping to politicise the issue.

“It is easy for them to criticise from the safety and comfort of their airconditioned offices – I would encourage the HRC executives to spend an entire week in a police car,” Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) president Alex Caruana said.

“Go from job to job with [the police] and see how professional they are when they are dealing with their own safety and human rights being infringed on, while at the same time putting their bodies and lives on the line to keep the rest of the community safe.”

A spokesperson for the government said it supports the safety of police officers and the public.

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If a person spits at the police, then they only have themselves to blame for a spit hood being applied. No spitting – no spit hood. Easy.

Massive beat up. Hepatitis C is not transmitted in saliva. Testing does not take six months of blood tests. Tests do not take six months to come back. It would reduce “uncertainty, anxiety and stress” if police & police unions (& RiotACT) circulated accurate information rather than whipping up hysteria.

James Ryan,
Perhaps you’ve missed the fact that the people spitting often deliberately bite themselves so they can spit blood at police, which most definitely can spread Hepatitis and HIV which require repeated testing over months to be accurate.

It’s not a fact, it’s a claim. It’s a claim made in a factually incorrect and deliberately misleading campaign. The claim itself is highly likely to be factually incorrect. If you’re correct though, you’ll be happy to provide evidence of cases of police contracting hepatitis and HIV through being spat upon? No?

Hi James_Ryan, it’s not that the test results take 6 months to get back, it’s a test at the time, a follow up test in three months, then a final test at 6 months.

James Ryan,
Are you seriously asking for evidence that Hepatitis and HIV can be spread through blood?

Because it doesn’t actually matter if any Police have been infected, the risk of disease transmission through saliva and blood is well established and the rights of police to work safely is clearly more important than people who would deliberately attack and spit on police.

We aren’t talking about police using these spithoods proactively, we are talking about using them on people who’ve shown that they will behave disgracefully and weaponise their bodily fluids.

Sorry Buzz. You’ve been misled. In cases of occupational exposure, a PCR test is conducted 3 weeks post-exposure. One test. The six month process you describe is the ‘community transmission’ test approach: antibody test 12 weeks post-exposure followed by PCR test at 6 months. Hope that helps.

I am surprised that we are able to keep what police we have, they put up with the worst conditions, they are not supported by politicians, the Greeens especially, and they have to deal with rubbish like this daily – all for a lousy $75,000/yr.

Our bus drivers in Canberra make $30,000 a year more than this!
Our rubbish truck drivers make $45,000 a year more than this.

The Greens disgust me, they are prepared to back criminals who will spit in blood in peoples faces over those who protect us!

Perhaps this is the type of article certain Greens politicians should read when they start complaining about the human rights of criminals who think spitting at police is reasonable behaviour.

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