Gloucestershire Constabulary will not be rushing into plans to try out controversial spit guards in its custody suite.
Following reports in the media that a trial was due to begin soon, Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl said such conjecture was premature.
As previously agreed, the Constabulary will be reviewing a number of options to find the best way to protect officers and staff.
Mr. Surl, who during a 30 year career as a former police officer was punched, kicked, bitten and spat upon, said: “I know from personal experience that any attack on officers carrying out their duties is completely unacceptable, and that extra protection is sometimes necessary. But the use of spit guards has caused controversy in other parts of the country with claims they breach suspects’ rights and could even be dangerous.
“The chief constable and I are in total agreement that the safety of our staff is paramount, but I am yet to be convinced that spit guards are the answer.
“This is a highly emotive issue that should not be rushed into without public engagement and any other consultation that may be appropriate”.
Spit guards are masks made of fine mesh that completely cover the head. They can be used to protect officers from prisoners who try to spit at or bite them. Spitting at officers exposes them to risks of contracting hepatitis and other infections. In some cases, incidents have led to police taking powerful antiviral drugs as a precaution.
Chief Constable Rod Hansen said, “This is an issue that divides opinion even within the service. Some regard them as a necessary and an essential restraint; others see them as impractical and maybe even inflammatory”.
“We already have the power to use reasonable force against citizens when it is deemed appropriate. If we can find a solution that suits everyone – including my officers and staff as well as for suspects, all of whom I have a duty of care towards, then further pause for thought is the right course to take”.
Spit guards have proved controversial elsewhere in the UK. A trial by the Metropolitan Police which was planned for last September was abandoned following the intervention of the then newly elected Mayor Sadiq Khan.