Having been a police officer for 30 years, I understand first-hand how disgusting and abhorrent it is to be spat at or bitten. I have experienced both personally.
After the initial shock, the possibility of contracting a communicable disease is a worrying possibility and the psychological effect on the officer is often overwhelming. In many ways, the aftermath is actually worse than the assault itself. Indeed, officers have told me that they would rather be punched than bitten or spat at.
Based on previous twelve-month figures, by the end of this year, over 1,400 police officers from Devon & Cornwall Police, Dorset Police and Avon & Somerset Police would have been assaulted while carrying out duties to keep the peace within their local communities (491 in Devon & Cornwall Police; 214 in Dorset Police; and 701 in Avon & Somerset Police).
In Dorset over the past 12 months, the number of reported incidents of officers being spat at or bitten has increased significantly. From three incidents in 2015/16 to 29 incidents being reported in 2017/18. The rise of reported assaults is a worrying trend and I understand that action must to taken to protect our protectors.
The principle that police officers and staff should not be spat at or bitten is beyond dispute; and I respect and accept the decision of the Chief Constable of Dorset, James Vaughan to introduce spit guards across the Force.
I have, in the past, voiced genuine concerns over the use of spit guards. I am however, reassured by the Chief Constable that there will be full and comprehensive training for all officers under the College of Policing National Personal Safety manual with regard to the use of the guards and that the guidance in that manual will be strictly adhered to.
Quite simply, I do not accept that an officer should ‘expect’ to be attacked in the execution of their duty or that any member of the emergency services should work in fear, and that is why I have given my whole hearted support to the #Unacceptable Campaign that has been launched by emergency services partners across the South West.
It is quite clear that the people of Dorset, my constituents, support officers being protected from such attacks and spit guards will now form part of their kit, just like body worn video.
That said, as the person elected to hold the Force to account, I give the people of Dorset my assurance that I, together with the independent "Use of Force Scrutiny Panel" will monitor and scrutinise the introduction and use of spit guards by Dorset Police as the roll out progresses.