08/10/2021

Use Of Spit And Bite Guards On Children And Young People Should Be Prohibited

The use of spit and bite guards by the PSNI on children and young people should be prohibited, according to the Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson.

She has published a report on her six month review of the deployment of Spit and Bite Guards by PSNI officers.

Spit and bite guards were introduced to the PSNI as an operational decision by the Chief Constable at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. To ensure oversight of this new use of force available to police officers, the Police Ombudsman conducted a review of all deployments of Spit and Bite Guards.

The Police Ombudsman initially conducted a three month review from 25 January 2021 which was extended by a further three months and finished on 25 July 2021. Resource implications for the Police Ombudsman’s office have prevented further review.

During the review period, the Police Ombudsman was notified of every deployment of a spit and bite and her investigators considered the circumstances of the deployment and reviewed the Body Worn Video. The Police Ombudsman personally viewed the Body Worn Video of every deployment of a Spit and Bite Guard on a child or young person.
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In her report on the review, the Police Ombudsman has presented a statistical analysis of the deployments. Seven deployments have resulted in referrals from the Chief Constable for further investigation and two deployments which led to the Police Ombudsman initiating an ‘own motion’ investigation of the circumstances. A number of investigations are ongoing.

During the review period, the Police Ombudsman also issued 14 policy recommendations to PSNI regarding issues which had been identified in her review of the deployments. These recommendations are included in the appendix to the report.

The Police Ombudsman's key findings are outlined in the report. The Police Ombudsman’s review identified that, for the most part, the deployments of Spit and Bite Guards were lawful and proportionate. However, the review also identified areas of concern.

Mrs Anderson has set out her concerns about the deployment of Spit and Bite Guards on children and young people. She has also identified circumstances where, although the deployment of the Spit and Bite Guard has been appropriate, the Body Worn Video has demonstrated aggressive conduct by police officers. The Police Ombudsman has expressed her concerns about general conduct by police officers to the Chief Constable.

She said: "The findings of my review of the deployment of spit and bite guards are clear. In my view, the use of Spit and Bite Guards on children and young persons should be prohibited. However, my main concern is that a number of the cases in my review have highlighted a general trend in conduct by officers that is not related to the deployment of Spit and Bite Guards and is indicative of aggressive and, at times, oppressive and overbearing conduct. I acknowledge that the statistical base is limited, however the conduct I have viewed on video is a cause for concern."

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