I’m not an expert on Spit Hoods.
In fact, even as a serving officer, I was completely unaware of them until relatively recently.
If I’m honest – and this is very much a personal view – I think they look pretty alarming. And so do a lot of other people if the debate of the last couple of days is anything to go by.
I understand that. And I understand any desire on the part of the Mayor’s Office to seek a wider set of views.
But I also understand the strength of feeling expressed by many frontline officers about the issue.
I guess it’s important to try to understand what spit hoods are designed for – why on earth they might be required in the first place – and the exceptional circumstances in which they might be used.
I have been a police officer for twenty-four years and, in that time, have worked alongside some fairly extraordinary people.
I have served with officers who have disarmed gunmen and those wielding swords and knives. I have worked alongside a PC who, a couple of years before, had been shot and left for dead by a drug dealer.
I have cradled the head of an officer who had been mown down by a stolen car.
I have served with officers who have suffered broken bones and who could show you any number of scars.
I have been hospitalised – needing stitches in my mouth – following an assault on duty.
I have worked with officers who have been spat at and who have faced the risk (and the fear) of serious illness as a consequence. I was taken to St Thomas’s for emergency treatment on the day a drug addict’s used hypodermic went into the palm of my hand. I understand the horrible – and seemingly interminable – wait for test results.
Some have suggested that this violence and the associated trauma is ‘just a part of the job’.
But that can never be so.
Thousands of police officers get assaulted in this country every single year. Some pay the greatest price of all. And that is just wrong. Deeply wrong.
I have said often that policing is the best job in the world. And it is. But it is also one of the most challenging.
God forbid that we ever take for granted the risks that officers face on our behalf.
Which brings me back to spit hoods.
It strikes me that, in life, it is so much easier to declare what we are against than it is to explain what we are for.
Those protesting against the use of spit hoods are absolutely within their rights to do so. In fact, I would defend passionately their right to do so.
But, alongside the exercise of that right, those same people also have a responsibility: to suggest credible and viable alternatives – and, in doing so, make clear that spitting blood, phlegm and goodness knows what else at police officers has no place in a civilised society.
The police service in this country has any number of faults and flaws. But it is made up of some of the finest and bravest people you could ever hope to meet.
More so now than ever, they need and deserve our support.