Revealed: Over 50 incidents of spitting or coughing with anti-spit guards used 28 times

Members of An Garda Síochána had to use anti-spit guards 28 times

Darren Hassett

Reporter:

Darren Hassett

Email:

darren.hassett@iconicnews.ie

Gardaí have dealt with over 50 incidents of spitting or coughing during the COVID-19 lockdown with anti-spit guards used 28 times.

An Garda Síochána continues to experience a high level of compliance with the public health guidelines at the many checkpoints and high visibility patrols it is conducting at tourist locations, natural beauty spots, and parks and beaches.

From 8 April until 2 May 2020 inclusive, there were 52 incidents of spitting and/or coughing against members of An Garda Síochána.

During the same period, members of An Garda Síochána had to use anti-spit guards 28 times.

Gardaí have interacted with hundreds of thousands of people and the vast majority are adhering to the public health guidelines.

A demonstration of this is the compliance rate at checkpoints. This is when individuals stopped at checkpoints are already in compliance with the guidelines or agree to take steps to become compliant such as turning around when asked to by a Garda.

The compliance rate was sampled at four of the larger checkpoints on Friday, 1 May, 2020 – one in each Garda region.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) technology was used to calculate the exact number of vehicles passing through the checkpoints.

The system can distinguish between large commercial vehicles and cars/small vans. 21 of the 13,324 car drivers checked - 0.16% - were requested to turn around for not having a valid reason for travel and all agreed to do so.

No details of these cars or drivers are being retained as per Garda policy to first encourage people to bring themselves into compliance to support efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In what continues to be a small minority of cases across the country, despite receiving a number of warnings, some individuals were still not willing to take steps to comply with the public health guidelines and the regulations were used under the Health Act 1947- Section 31A- Temporary Restrictions (Covid 19) Regulations 2020.

From 8 April, which was when the regulations came into effect, until 2 May 2020 inclusive, Gardaí have invoked the regulations 139 times out of hundreds of thousands of interactions with the public.

These include both arrests and incidents without arrest where name and address details were taken for consultation with the DPP on the decision to issue charges.

Arrest remains a last resort.

Of the 139 incidents, two were as a result of an instruction from a relevant medical professional as per the Act.

As per Garda policy in relation to the regulations, in all cases where arrests were made under the regulations, members of An Garda Síochána consulted with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the decision to charge.

Some of these incidents are already before the Courts.

In addition, pre-existing enforcement powers were used in 1,172 incidents where other offences were disclosed in the course of COVID-19 operations.

These range from incidents such as drink driving or disqualified drivers detected at checkpoints, to drugs and weapons seizures, to public order offences.

The number of incidents involving other suspected crimes continues to far exceed the number of cases involving only breaches of Government restrictions.

Commissioner Drew Harris said: "The continued high level of compliance with the health guidelines is very welcome and we thank the public for it.

"Both the low level of ‘turn-backs’ at major checkpoints and the very small usage of the regulations compared to the huge number of interactions we have had with people show that the vast majority of people are playing their part in tackling COVID-19.

"At the outset of the COVID-19 situation, I said that An Garda Síochána will continue to operate as a community-based policing service with a focus on protecting the vulnerable. This approach will not change."

Anti-spit guards provide an additional tactical option to be considered by a Garda, as a last resort in a continuum of graduated response, in circumstances where ‘there is clear evidence of spitting now or where a member believes there is a clear and tangible threat of spitting posed by the subject’.

Anti-spit guards are a lawful use of force and are currently on issue to other police services internationally.

Commissioner Harris said, "Regrettably, we continue to see spitting and coughing attacks on our personnel. These are a significant health and safety risk to our members in the current environment. We must protect them from such disgraceful attacks.

"This includes having the option of using anti-spit guards in very limited circumstances. We have made it clear these anti-spit guards are only to be used as last resort and in line with the Garda Decision Making Model, which includes at its centre human rights and our Code of Ethics.”

Garda management continuously considers various forms of additional PPE which could be deployed to operational Gardaí.

When considering the use of anti-spit guards in line with the Garda Decision Making Model, members of An Garda Síochána must consider all available options and take into account the individual circumstance of the case including the age of the subject and the particular potential vulnerability of juveniles.

Anti-spit guards will be deployed as a temporary measure for the duration of the COVID-19 public health situation.

Policy, including the extent of deployment, and training for anti-spit guards has been issued and only members of An Garda Síochána who have completed this training may deploy this PPE.

The Garda policy and use of anti-spit guards will be reviewed by An Garda Síochána in September 2020.