Anti-spit hoods have no proven effect on Covid spread, Policing Authority says

Use of hoods by gardaí has been criticised by human rights groups

The anti-spit guards are wire and mesh devices designed to be forcibly placed over the heads of individuals to stop them spitting or coughing on officers. File photograph: PA

The anti-spit guards are wire and mesh devices designed to be forcibly placed over the heads of individuals to stop them spitting or coughing on officers. File photograph: PA

 

Anti-spit hoods have “no proven effectiveness” in preventing the spread of Covid-19 and their use by members of the Garda “remains a concern”, the Policing Authority has said.

The authority, which has oversight powers over the Garda, has published its annual report for 2020, which was laid before the Oireachtas by Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys on Wednesday.

“Chief among the concerns of the authority was the introduction of anti-spit hoods,” the report noted.

The hoods, known officially as anti-spit guards, are wire and mesh devices designed to be forcibly placed over the heads of individuals to stop them spitting or coughing on officers.

The Garda started using them in response to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, which drew concerns from human rights bodies.

“While introduced with the intent of offering protection to the workforce, the authority expressed concern at their introduction and sought assurances that these would only be introduced for the duration of the pandemic,” according to its annual report.

“Given the severity of these devices the authority placed an emphasis on usage being carefully and consistently monitored, agreeing a reporting template for members of the Garda Síochána to complete after each use of the device.

“The authority reviewed these to ensure use was in line with policy and also examined wider trends in use.

“The authority also made submission to the Garda evaluation of anti-spit hoods, and in doing so contacted the distributors of these devices to gather evidence of their efficacy in protecting members.

“It emerged that these devices had no proven effectiveness in preventing the spread of Covid-19 and their use remains a concern for the authority.”

New powers

The authority also examined the use of new Garda powers and Covid-19 policing activity. However, it expressed disappointment that the Garda could not provide it with all the data it sought.

“It was a source of disappointment that the data recorded by the Garda Síochána did not capture the full breadth of powers granted to it to deal with the health emergency,” it said.

“In this context, the Garda Síochána were unable to report on the number of times they issued directions to people and where the person complied.

“Instead the authority had to assess data relating to offences committed. Data was assessed, in as much as possible, to ensure there was no disproportionate use of powers in localised areas.”

On the numbers of checkpoints carried out, as well as the use of powers in the hospitality and retail sectors, the authority said the Garda response was proportionate.

The report also noted that 91 per cent of gardaí have now signed up to the force’s new code of ethics, which was introduced in the wake of a series of Garda scandals.

The code details various duties expected of gardaí, including upholding the law, honesty and integrity, respect, privacy, transparency, and speaking up about wrongdoing.

Official figures last year suggested a reluctance among members to sign up to the code. However, the authority said it emerged in the course of 2020 that the recording of those signing up to the code was inaccurate.