ACT Police Used A Spit Hood On A 16-Year-Old Girl

The ACT Chief Police Officer said safer alternatives, like PPE, wouldn't be used instead.

ACT Spit Hood

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ACT Policing has admitted they used a spit hood on a 16-year-old girl.

The territory’s Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan revealed on Monday that the notorious restraint device was still being used at the watch house within Canberra City Police Station. When used, the face coverings make those around the offender unable to identify respiratory distress, including suffocation.

“The use of spit hoods is dehumanising, traumatising, dangerous, and not necessary in a modern and human rights-centred justice system,” said ACT Greens MLA, Emma Davidson on Wednesday.

Gaughan told the estimates committee that spit hoods were used “very seldomly, to prevent a person in custody from spitting or biting officers” during the hearing, saying that there were 26 instances of officers reporting being spat at or bitten over a five-month period in 2020.

“Not only do I have to ensure the safety of people in custody, but I also need to ensure the safety of others, including my officers,” he said. He went on to report that the hoods are then removed once a person in custody is in a holding cell, and aren’t “generally carried by members of frontline operations”.

In a recent example, a spit hood was used on a 16-year-old girl, with Gaughan insisting that they weren’t being used on children younger than her age.

“We’ve had a 16-year-old in the city who was aggressive in relation when she was taken into the watch house for refusing to give up her alcohol, and she spat and kicked at police,” he said, while claiming that safer alternatives like personal protective equipment (PPE) would jeopardise police operations by obscuring their vision.

The ACT Human Rights Commission said in a statement on Tuesday that they were “seriously concerned” by the news, and the lack of concrete data about the use of spit hoods in the territory, “particularly when we know from other jurisdictions that spit hoods are used disproportionately on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including children”.

“The use of spit hoods could constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment when used to punish or coerce, and may further compound trauma for vulnerable individuals,” they said. “There are other effective, less restrictive and less risky measures, such as PPE and face-shields, that can minimise risk to all involved in such incidents.”

The group, alongside the ACT Public Advocate and Young People Commissioner, Jodie Griffiths Cook, as well as the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG) are calling for both spit hoods and mechanical restraint chairs to be prohibited for use on children and young people, across police stations, correctional facilities, youth justice centres, and secure mental health facilities.

The revelation comes after the Queensland Government also confirmed it still uses spit hoods on minors at the start of August, including on at least one child in the last year, as reported by the Guardian. Meanwhile, the Northern Territory Government said a couple of days later that alternatives to spit hood use on children were being “considered”, after police were called out for using them in February.

Spit hoods were banned last November in South Australia after a five year campaign from the family of Wayne Fella Morrison, who died after one was used on him while in custody.

“There is no safe use of spit hoods,” said advocacy group Change the Record. “They are cruel, inhumane and have been implicated in the deaths of First Nations peoples.”