31 August 2022

'You put your body on the frontline': police union says spit hoods reasonable in response to grubby act

| Lottie Twyford
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Woman in spit hood

Spit hoods – similar to the one pictured – are used to stop people from being able to spit at or bite police officers. Photo: ICS Jail Supplies.

Following the revelation that ACT police officers used a spit hood on a 16-year-old girl who became violent, the police union has slammed calls for the devices to be banned, saying they protect officers.

Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) president Alex Caruana said police officers 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?”

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On Monday (29 August), ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan confirmed ACT police officers used spit hoods, but rarely.

He could not provide detailed figures at this stage as the data was not routinely collected, although it is expected to be provided at a later date.

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.

Neil Gaughan

In estimates on Monday, ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said he had been spat at as an operational police officer and would rather “be smacked in the mouth”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Greens, who questioned the CPO in estimates, later raised concerns about a lack of reporting and the use of the devices.

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”.

Mr Braddock will consult with “key stakeholders and advocates” about banning the devices and hopes to bring that debate to the Assembly before the end of this year.

Those sentiments are shared by Change the Record – a First Nations-led advocacy group – which has called for a ban. The group has written to Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury.

Change the Record executive officer Sophie Trevitt said there is no safe way to use spit hoods.

“It beggars belief why spit hoods would still be in use in a so-called human rights jurisdiction like the ACT when other states and territories use alternatives to keep workers safe like face shields and PPE,” she said.

The ACT Human Rights Commission expressed “serious concerns” about the lack of data on the use of spit hoods in the Territory.

It has also thrown its support behind a ban.

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But the union said spit hoods should be considered PPE.

Mr Caruana agreed with CPO Gaughan, saying the hoods are safe and are a “reasonable, measured response” when used in accordance with their guidelines.

“They are very, very safe and I do not foresee any issues with [the ones used by the AFP],” he said.

“They are there to protect police officers from unnecessary risk. And at the end of the day, [spitting] is a grubby thing to do.”

Mr Caruana said problems arise with the spit hoods if a detainee spits when the hood is on as the liquid creates a gag, stopping the person from breathing properly.

He explained that this risk is mitigated if the person is supervised.

“The spit hood can just be removed altogether or taken off, cleaned and put back on.”

The police union is at pains to stress alternatives have been considered, but they simply aren’t as effective.

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A spokesperson for the ACT Government said the government supports protecting the health and safety of police officers and the public.

“ACT Policing members are trained to de-escalate situations and resort to the use of force in exceptional circumstances. These are operational decisions for officers and are governed by directions issued by the AFP Commissioner, such as Order 3 on operational safety,” the statement read.

“All actions by ACT Policing are subject to scrutiny, including through Professional Standards, the Ombudsman and Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI).”

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Another looney subject from the greens. Why do people vote for them!

This is correct. The hood goes on after someone has already spat/bitten someone.

The way Braddock and co are banging on you’d think the police pull up, arrest someone and instantly slap on a spit hood, that they remain in the hood for the duration of their time in police custody. That doesn’t happen.

Outside of the Greens fairy world, the hood would stay on for a time, until the person was safely placed into a holding cell. It could be 30 seconds from when the hood goes on, the person is frogmarched to the cells, placed into the cells, hood removed, door closed.

I would usually support the Greens, but I really don’t understand the problem here. How are these things dangerous? Based on the photo, I cant see anyone being able to spit enough to hamper their own breathing. And it’s not like everyone is put in one immediately on arrest – you actually have to spit and be violent towards officers to get one.
If you are going to behave like an animal and spit on people, you should be treated like one and have your head bagged up.

swaggieswaggie9:28 pm 01 Sep 22

Alex Caruana shouldnt worry, the police have the overwhelming support of the vast majority of this city. Sadly the government float about in their little happy bubble thinking they know best but, like all bubbles, this one will burst and the sooner the better.

Humane measures for human behaviour. Spitting at people fails the human test. .

The people who are opposed to these types of controls unsurprisingly are unable to come up with equivalent controls to reduce the risks to police officers and other guards.

But still you’ll hear them whinging about affronts to human rights whilst completely ignoring the same rights for police to not be subject to the disgraceful behaviour thateans these types of controls are necessary.

What’s wrong with face shields? Police in other juisdictions have no problems with using face shields. It’s not that people haven’t got used to using these kind of protections over the last number of years with Covid. Walk around any shopping centre and you will see people wearing masks and face shields. Also I don’t whing or whinge. I sometimes have an opinion and contribute constructively to the comments as readers are encouraged to do. Whether people agree with me or not that is up to them. I do note however there are a small number of regular and self-opiniated contributors who have an opinion on everything and won’t tolerate any other views!

Face shields create their own safety risks when criminals are trying to violently assault police, once again you are trying to put all the responsibility on the police rather than controlling the risk at its source. The criminals deliberately engaging in disgraceful and dehumanising behaviour.

You still aren’t understanding the balance of human rights where the rights of individuals being arrested need to be balanced with the rights of police to do their jobs safely.

If you want to make “human rights” the issue, you can’t ignore half of the actual humans involved.

When criminals are using bodily fluids as a deliberate weapon to attack police, spit hoods are a perfectly reasonable response to control the risk.

swaggieswaggie10:48 pm 31 Aug 22

Don’t spit and you don’t wear a hood. Simple.

This is just so disgraceful that spit hoods are a part of the ACT’s criminal justice system. And used on children! What a surprise the police union support such a dehumanising, traumatising and dangerous tactic! Emma Davidson ACT Minister for Justice and Health should be doing more than just ensuring they are kept out of Bimberi and Dhulwa. They should be banned completely!! They are primitive and degrading and contrary to the ACTs Human Rights Act

How do you suggest protecting the human rights of the people being spat on?

Jack, what if your job involved dealing with out of control people who are biting and spitting on you? How would you deal with out of control people who dehumanise, traumatise and endanger you while you are trying to do your job? Would you quote Human Rights blah-blah-blah, or take immediate action to deal with the problem at hand and attach a spit hood to the out of control individual to protect you and your colleagues? What would you do if in that situation?

Should have a mandatory fine for spitting at someone. A good way to tackle the reporting.

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