Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP, courted controversy on 9th February when she tweeted “No evidence that spit hoods are necessary or useful”. Careless phrasing, or a shocking viewpoint? Well, frankly, both.
Aspiring for Government, Ms Abbott should recognise the important role that police officers do under challenging circumstances, often amongst the most complex of social situations with, lets be honest, some not very nice people. That is the reality of policing; it often isn’t nice tasks dealing with nice people. Spitting is disgusting and invasive, far worse than a punch or a kick. Our parliamentarians should see it for what it is, and they should adjust their narrative accordingly.
If we’re honest, there’s rarely any compelling evidence on many things until it is tried, but there are historic, anecdotal examples that police can be trusted to use kit appropriately. One such example is taser – Federation figures on “red-dotting” with taser proves that officers exercise restraint and minimise use of force. When CS was introduced, it was not excessively used. And when batons were lengthened and changed from wood to acrylic or metal, there was no additional appetite for striking people. Yet, we were safer, because the police could better do their job. They were better equipped to do what we ask of them every single day.
I’m sure that having you face covered isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. But if that person is going to behave like an animal, Chief Constables and the Home Office have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the safety and wellbeing of those men and women who have no choice in putting themselves in harms way. It is simply wrong to feed a media narrative of police oppression on the back of that.
We have the right to go home after work and kiss our children goodnight, without fear of having contracted unpleasant diseases. We have the right to enjoy our days off without the need to visit the local hospital for tests. We have the right to go home at the end of the day and switch off, forget about work, and enjoy time with family and friends without worrying about what if? We also have the right to know the law is on our side when we are assaulted whilst simply carrying out our duties; that the law will be an effective deterrent in those circumstances; and that our lawmakers appreciate the difficult job we do to keep them and their constituents safe.
As officer numbers plummet and demands and expectations remain high, we cannot afford our officers to become ill or injured, or to be unduly delayed in getting out to the next job, which could be a call for help from one of your family or friends. Assaults of all kinds distract us from doing our jobs, as instead, we document our injury, write our statement and justify our use of force, for no additional penalty at court, perpetuating the belief that it’s ok to behave like that towards our protectors.
The police accept spit hoods are controversial, and we know there will be great scrutiny with their use. We need to use them with due diligence, to exercise restraint in their use in order to absolutely justify their application to someone, just as we do with every other use of force. But unless some bright spark at the Home Office has anything better, it’s the best thing we currently have available that is practical, because nipping off to get your safety goggles and welding mask part way through a fight with a violent offender just doesn’t cut it.
Our elected officials need to do three things: if they cannot reconcile themselves with spit hoods, they need to lead the way in sourcing a suitable alternative, instead of carping from the sidelines. Human rights concerns shouldn’t be a debar to their use, it should be a catalyst for scrutiny and transparency of how we deal with difficult situations on behalf of the public, every single day.
Second, our MPs need to support tougher penalties for those who assault emergency workers, because an assault on us is an assault on the very fabric of society. Those who seek to injure our protectors need to know that society takes a dim view, and will respond accordingly.
Finally, our elected officials need to commit time and energy deriding and expressing their outrage at the behaviour of those who spit and assault officers, with the same zeal with which they queue up to take a swipe at the credibility and motivations of our brave men and women who keep Britain’s streets safe on our behalf.