Tackling Crime (Supplementary) [4]

Session date: 
November 1, 2018
Question By: 
Susan Hall
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Susan Hall AM:  Good morning, Commissioner.  At a Police and Crime Committee (PCC) meeting at the beginning of September [2018], when we were discussing officer safety, you said that no officers had ever mentioned a desire to have spit guards.  Since then, 5,500 responses to a MPS survey said that 95% of the officers were in support of the introduction of spit guards, which is a very big percentage, obviously.  Do you trust the officers that are asking for these based on their experience and knowledge?

Supplementary To: 


Answer for Tackling Crime (Supplementary) [4]

Answer for Tackling Crime (Supplementary) [4]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Cressida Dick CBE QPM (Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis):  Absolutely I do, yes.  Just to be clear, what I said was that until it was mentioned at the Police Federation conference, no officer had said to me - and I spent a lot of time with them - or any of my senior colleagues that this was an issue for them or a priority for them.  Obviously spit guards have been available, licensed by the Home Office, to be used for about 12 years.  I introduced them in our custody suites; I am pleased with how it has gone over the last year, very sparingly used, well used, and in circumstances that absolutely required it.  As far as I am aware, there have been no complaints. 


What I said when we met at the PCC was that I would ask the Federation colleagues to come up with evidence from colleagues about how they saw things and where they felt that spit guards might assist.  They have done the survey.  As you say, over 5,000 have responded.  Of course, I trust what they are saying from their knowledge and experience.  Unfortunately, the survey does not actually ask them the question about incidents where having a guard might have protected them.  It is completely wrong that any officer should ever be spat at.  I have been; many have.  It is very prevalent, we discover, not least from the survey, and/or to be bitten, which is in some respects even worse.  That is not acceptable.  It is a crime.  We will deal with it.  Spit guards, of course, will only be used when somebody has already spat or bitten [an officer].  We do not have any data at the moment about the number of times in which they might be a protective measure because we do not have that prevalent. 


I am now doing some more work on that, and I am also talking to colleagues up and down the country.  I absolutely accept that this is something that my officers feel strongly about.  You know why I have been very cautious about this, but I am currently reviewing it again, and I absolutely have set out that I want my officers to feel supported.  I want them to be as safe as they reasonably can be.  I am looking at what protective measures we can take that will protect them better from the hazard of spitting, which sadly is all too prevalent. 


Susan Hall AM:  I know one of your concerns was how it would look to outsiders.  I have forgotten the words you used, but I know that was one of the concerns.  Do you think that that should take precedence over the fact that clearly other forces have looked into it and think it is a good idea?  None of us want our police officers spat at, and we really must protect them as best we can.  It has worked well in custody suites.  Therefore, given that the British Transport Police (BTP) has the use of them on the streets of London, would it not send the right message to the front-line officers that have to deal with this abominable situation?


Cressida Dick CBE QPM (Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis):  Again, to be clear, I was never concerned, and I never meant to give an impression that I was concerned, about what you might call, in modern parlance, the ‘optics’ of this.  What I am concerned about is whether the use thereof is actually going to keep my officers safer or not.  I was concerned that once you try to place, in a difficult, violent situation, a spit guard on somebody - and we have seen some very vivid videos in the summer of some of the aggression that the officers are occasionally, in some areas, up against - and are struggling to put a spit guard on, it would actually make a difficult situation very much worse.  As soon as you have the spit guard on, you need to really, really carefully monitor how the person is and what is going on.  We know there have been some inquests in which the officers’ actions have been called into very serious question.  They have ended up being investigated for years about whether they did or did not manage the spit guard properly.  It is not without its difficulties, and I think my colleagues around the country would say that, too. 


The context in London is different, in my view, and that is why I have been very cautious about it.  It is not what somebody might think when they look.  It is what they might think when they look and then what they might do to make that situation less safe for the officers.  It is under review, Susan.  That is what I am saying to you.  It is under review.


Susan Hall AM:  Fair enough.  What sort of date do you think you might have come to a decision by?


Cressida Dick CBE QPM (Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis):  I have said to the Federation that we should come together in a matter of weeks, not months or years.  I am doing the review as I speak, and I will be meeting with them in a matter of weeks. 


Susan Hall AM:  That is indeed goods news.  Thank you.  Mr Mayor, what is your personal view on spit guards?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  It is an operational matter and I support the Commissioner.  The Commissioner has talked about the spit hoods being available in custody suites.  A good example of the Commissioner’s operational expertise, advising me about its importance, but a good piece of engagement in relation to making sure people are aware it is being used to reassure those involved.  First it was in a part of London, then it was in the rest of London.  There have been no problems.  There is a proper accountability that reassures the Commissioner and reassures myself and the Deputy Mayor [for Policing and Crime].  If the advice from the Commissioner is to - subject to her review - have officers in London using spit hoods, then obviously we would make sure there is proper engagement, but you have to make sure your police officers have all the tools available to keep themselves safe.  For anybody who has spoken to a police officer who has been spat upon, putting aside the illnesses and the issues of health and safety, it is a horrible, horrible experience.  If it is the case that the spit hoods being available to MPS officers leads to officers being less spat upon and some of the uncomfortable circumstances they go through having to happen, then I think it is a good thing.