(UR) London — Hours after reporting that London’s Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) would begin using controversial “spit hoods” on suspects in October, The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the program’s implementation has been suspended — amid a flood of criticism — while the Met further considers the practice.
On Monday, The Guardian wrote it had learned that “Britain’s biggest police force is to allow its officers to use spit hoods on suspects within weeks” and that the Met claims “the restraint devices are necessary to protect officers from prisoners who try to spit at or bite them, exposing them to the risk of serious infection.”
But these simple “mesh fabric hoods” have been the subject of much debate concerning both their effectiveness as restraining devices and their possible violation of individual human rights.
Immediately after the news broke on Monday, for instance, Amnesty International pounced upon the Met’s plan.
“Spit hoods can be a cruel and dangerous form of restraint,” the human rights group’s Oliver Sprague stated in a press release, adding that “Some models of spit hood are little more than a glorified sack which restrict breathing and can cause extreme distress.”
And Amnesty International wasn’t alone. Liberty, another rights group, was also quick to denounce the Met’s proposal.
“A spit hood is a primitive, cruel and degrading tool that inspires fear and anguish,” Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, stated. “We have seen many cases where the police use them unnecessarily and without justification, including on children and disabled people.”
Or sometimes disabled children, it would seem.
In June, Britain’s Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) slammed the Sussex police force for hooding and detaining — for over 60 hours — an 11-year-old disabled girl.
More recently, the IPCC is investigating the case of a young man who was “treated like a dog” while being pinned to the ground and hooded by officers. That incident was filmed and the footage uploaded to social media, prompting the investigation.
Despite the fact that records indicate spit hoods have been used over 500 times since last year by a handful of England’s provincial police forces, events like those involving the disabled girl and the young man are still relatively isolated.
The Met’s new plan, however, would greenlight the use of spit hoods by officers in 32 detainment stations in and around greater London — dramatically increasing the device’s potential utilization.
Officially, the Met’s reason for delaying the pilot program is so that it can confer with the administration of London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan. Mayor Khan, who took office in May, claims he’s thus far been excluded from talks about the mass spit hood program.
Writes The Guardian:
“A spokesperson for the mayor’s office of policing and crime — which supposedly oversees the Met — said: ‘The mayor has not been consulted about this decision, and we will be looking into the details of the scheme before the pilot starts.’”
The Met, which claims to have already had consultations regarding spit hoods in previous months, nevertheless stated Tuesday that “with a new administration coming into City Hall since then,” the agency will “consult further before starting any pilot.”
If given the go-ahead, the spit hood program would at first only affect suspects in detainment stations, but the Met hasn’t ruled out extending the practice to London’s city streets if initial findings prove beneficial to officer safety.
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