Mon, 03 May, 2021 – 06:28
Gardaí will have use of controversial spit hoods right through the summer despite ongoing civil liberty concerns about their use.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he is conscious of the level of “disquiet” about the use of the equipment — a mesh hood which is fitted by force over the entire head of a person in custody to prevent them spitting or coughing on gardaí.
Despite a reduction in the number of times spit hoods have been used in recent months, Mr Harris said he has committed to a further examination of their use by the end of September.
“We will have almost a year and a half of data on their use and that will determine what their future might be in the force,” he said.
“Whether that’s complete withdrawal or partial withdrawal, that has yet to be determined. I am conscious of the disquiet there is in respect of them.”
The equipment was introduced by gardaí in April 2020 in the early stages of the public health crisis to protect gardaí from spit attacks.
The Policing Authority expressed concerns soon afterwards and sought assurances from garda management that the devices would only be used for the duration of the public health emergency.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has also called for the use of spit hoods to end.
It said it has concerns that their use may constitute a form of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and that they should never be used on children.
But figures from last November showed that spit hoods had been used 118 times — including six times on children under 18, 16 times on people with obvious signs of a mental health issue and 74 times when the person was clearly intoxicated.
The ICCL said it considers the use of these hoods “potentially constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”.
It said in other jurisdictions, there is evidence that their use has led not just to humiliation but also to deaths and suffocation.
At the latest meeting of the Policing Authority, board member, Paul Mageean, asked when might the use of spit hoods be discontinued, given the transition back towards a normal policing stance.
“What possible circumstances might justify their use beyond the pandemic?”
Mr Harris said the prevalence of spitting attacks has declined significantly. It was reported in February that there was 20 cough or spit attacks on gardaí in January, with the hoods being used twice.
There were only three recorded uses of spit hoods in March.
But he said they were introduced as a piece of protective equipment to safeguard the health and safety of gardaí and that further evaluation of how they have been used is required before a decision on their future use can be made.
He said that evaluation would look at whether spit hoods should be withdrawn or retained, and if they are retained, whether they will be distributed widely to uniform members, or just to specialist units.
“We need to see what happens over the next few months in relation to spitting assaults. There is more to do here before we just say withdraw them completely,” he said.
What Are ‘Spit Hoods,’ and Why Do the Police Use Them?
Daniel Prude died in Rochester after officers covered his head with a hood. The devices are widely used, but the N.Y.P.D. does not give them to patrol officers.
Published Sept. 3, 2020Updated Sept. 8, 2020
The mesh hood is a common device that the police and correction officers use, known as a “spit hood” or “spit sock.” It was intended to keep Mr. Prude, who had been spitting on the ground, from exposing them to disease.
Earlier that night, Mr. Prude, who had a history of mental illness, had run out of his brother’s home naked and was behaving erratically, telling at least one person that he had the coronavirus, according to police reports.
The officers went on to hold Mr. Prude down on the pavement for two minutes, his head still wrapped in the sack, as he lost consciousness and his pulse stopped. Paramedics restarted his heart, but he died a week later in a hospital. An autopsy found the cause of death was “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
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