Police officers being spat on has more than double during the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s highest ranking officer has said.
Speaking before the justice sub-committee on policing on Thursday, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone told MSPs that spit hoods could be used to stop such incidents occurring and he wanted to ensure their continued availability to protect his officers.
While he did not offer specifics, Mr Livingstone told the committee incidents where a member of the public has spat on a police officer have more than doubled since March.
Human rights body Amnesty International raised concerns about the use of spit hoods, but Mr Livingstone said their use could ensure the safety of officers on the front lines.
“No member of Police Scotland, whether a police officer or police staff, should expect or tolerate being spat upon in the course of their duties,” he said.
“Spit hoods are available, they will be used by officers and staff using their own judgment when it’s clear somebody is spitting upon them.
“What’s happened, over the course of the Covid period, is a very small minority being aggressive and trying to fight officers, and instances of spitting have more than doubled over the Covid period.
“I think inevitably, the use of spit hoods will have increased.”
The chief constable said that the hoods are used in “significantly less than 1%” of the instances of someone being taken into custody, but added that – despite the low numbers – he would “insist” they were made available to staff and officers to protect them.
With Covid-19 being transmitted through droplets in the air passed between an infected person and others, spitting could potentially result in an officer getting infected.
In a submission by Police Scotland to the committee before Mr Livingstone’s appearance, it said that 203 staff and officers have tested positive for Covid-19 from more than 1,900 tests.
Officers are able to be tested if they have symptoms or if they believe they may have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19.
Addressing the statistics, Mr Livingstone said: “We are going to continue to allow the asymptomatic testing that we’ve introduced.
“If any member of staff or any police officer has concerns, we’ll provide access to that and we’ll also – where necessary – provide that support to their families.”