- Made of wire and mesh, spit hoods are designed to prevent detainees from spitting or coughing on police.
- The Irish police force ordered 16,000 hoods in March. They were deployed 19 times last week, a 70% increase from the week prior.
- Human rights groups say the devices are “dangerous and degrading” and linked them to deaths in custody.
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Irish police have more than doubled their use of spit hoods —wire-and-mesh masks that cover a detainee’s entire head — to protect officers from what police commissioner Drew Harris called “disgusting and despicable spitting and coughing attacks.”
Ireland’s police force, known as the Gardaí, has employed spit hoods 47 times since the beginning of April. They were used 19 times last week alone, an increase of 70%, according to The Irish Times.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see these disgusting and despicable spitting and coughing attacks on our personnel,” Harris said after the latest figures were released.
Harris added that the guards were to be “used only as last resort” and followed the police’s ethics code.
In late March, the Garda ordered 16,000 spit hoods to protect themselves from aggressive suspects who spat or coughed on them, representing the force’s first massive rollout of the devices, according to The Irish Times.
Since the beginning of April, police in Ireland have been purposefully spat or coughed on 64 times, according to the Times. If a detainee has the coronavirus, spitting or coughing could lead to infection.
The hoods have sparked controversy in Ireland over the last two months.
In March, the human rights group Liberty said the hoods did “far more harm than good,” according to The Irish Times. The group also said covering people’s faces was linked to deaths in custody, and called their free use on children and vulnerable people “dangerous and degrading.”
In April, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties asked Harris to suspend their use, which the group said could create an “inhuman and degrading” situation comparable to “hooding,” a technique used to increase fear during torture.
Despite the increase, the actual use of spit hoods in Ireland is low compared to the thousands of interactions between police and civilians, The Irish Times reported.
The country is not alone in adding the controversial devices to its police arsenal: In 2019, the UK’s Scotland Yard announced that all police officers in London would carry hoods, according to the Independent.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick had opposed the devices in the months leading up to the announcement.
“It does create, in those who are looking at it being applied, a sense that this is an oppressive thing to do,” Dick told the London Assembly, according to the Independent.
But the Metropolitan Police Federation said its research found 95% of officers wanted to carry hoods.
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The Federation also said three police officers were spat at every day in London.
“Being spat at is abhorrent and we know it’s sadly happening too often to our colleagues in London”, said MPF chairman Ken Marsh said, according to the BBC. “Officers protecting the people of London should not be subject to this sort of disgusting assault when they are carrying out their duty.”
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