Tasers and spit hoods backed by Sussex Police bosses

Deputy chief constable Bernie O'Reilly holding up the type of spit hood used by Sussex Police. Picture: Sussex PCC

Deputy chief constable Bernie O'Reilly holding up the type of spit hood used by Sussex Police. Picture: Sussex PCC

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Tasers and spit hoods are worthwhile at a time when up to three officers are being assaulted every 24 hours, senior Sussex Police bosses have said.

Answering questions from Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, chief constable Giles York and deputy chief constable Bernie O’Reilly addressed concerns over assaults on officers and the use of hoods to prevent people spitting or biting.

“We have on average between two and three assaults on our officers every 24 hours,” Mr O’Reilly told the commissioner at today’s performance and accountability meeting, which was broadcast online.

“We take the safety of our officers really really seriously. When they first join they do eight days of personal safety training. We refresh every single year.”

The training encompasses both the use of equipment like handcuffs and batons but also how to de-escalate situations, Mr O’Reilly said.

He also backed officers carrying Tasers: “Taser has a huge impact in confrontational, volatile situations. Not its use just the fact that it’s present there.”

Asked what the force does to support officers who have been assaulted, Mr O’Reilly told Mrs Bourne that chief officers try to call every officer to check in on them.

Mr York said that he personally has visited officers at their homes after particularly serious attacks.

Sussex Police is constantly looking for ways to better protect its staff, Mr O’Reilly added.

Also under discussion was Sussex Police’s use of spit hoods, which have drawn controversy in other areas of the country.

Mrs Bourne said: “Spit guards now have been introduced by more than a third of police forces in England and Wales.

She explained that these were used to ‘prevent individuals arrested from spitting’ and added that they protect officers from ‘phlegm and blood’ as well.

The use of spit hoods has been criticised by human rights group Amnesty International. Their UK arms programme director Oliver Sprague said last year: “Spit hoods can be a cruel and dangerous form of restraint.

“There needs to be detailed national guidance on the use of spit hoods, and we need to proper training and monitoring of their use put in place.”

But Mr York said the type of spit hoods used by Sussex Police are the ‘least intrusive’ and are ‘very easy to see through’, likening them to a ‘beekeeper’s veil’.

Asked what the alternative to the hoods would be, Mr O’Reilly said: “You could end up phyically holding someone down, trying to turn their head away from you to stop them spitting in your direction, which is a lot more dangerous to the individual.”

He said officers are trained to ensure use of force is ‘appropriate, proportionate and necessary’.

Mrs Bourne said in the circumstances that spit hoods were “probably a softer technique” than the alternative.

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