Criticism of Police Use of ‘Spit Hoods’ Grows Louder

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Police at a NYC protest on June 1. Photo by Andrea Cipriano/TCR.

“Spit hoods” have come under scrutiny in light of the March death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York. However, such criticism is not new.

Prude died after police placed him in a spit hood and applied pressure to his head and back during a mental health arrest. Prude had been spitting and the use of force came after his attempts to stand. Video footage shows that Prude was not being violent.

“A spit hood, or spit guard, is a loose, breathable fabric sack that can be placed over a person’s head to prevent them from biting or spitting,” The New York Times reported, adding that the hoods are often made of mesh, making a person’s face visible to police. “Many hoods have an elastic band designed to stay loosely secured around a person’s neck” 

The hoods are meant to prevent the spread of diseases as well as to keep a person from biting or spitting on police. The Insider also reported that spit hoods are used to protect medical personnel.

Critics of spit hoods say they are not only humiliating and stress-inducing but make it harder for officers to notice when someone is having issues breathing. They have been scrutinized as a factor in several people’s deaths throughout multiple countries in recent years.

Neil Gehlawat, “a California lawyer who has sued on behalf of several people who died after being restrained in a spit hood,” says that the devices can also cause an increased heart rate and trouble breathing. 

The New York Times reported that a 2019 medical study claimed using spit hoods causes “no clinically significant changes” in a healthy person’s ability to breathe. However, spit hoods are often used along with other forms of restraint as in Prude’s case.

Seven police officers involved in Prude’s death have been suspended.

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