Queensland police will no longer use spit hoods in watch houses, Commissioner Katarina Carroll says

Safety hoods will no longer be used in watch houses across Queensland, Commissioner Katarina Carroll has announced.

The face coverings, known as spit hoods, were introduced in Queensland in 2009 and sometimes used on those in watch house custody to prevent officers from being spat on or bitten, and potentially being exposed to transmittible diseases.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) said safety hoods were used on 138 occasions between 2015 and 2022, or 0.04 per cent of the total number of persons in police custody during this period.

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby said last month the idea it was acceptable to put a bag over the head of a distressed child or adult was “cruel” and “archaic”.

“In an era where we have world-class [personal protective equipment] there is absolutely no need for these dangerous and archaic devices,” Ms Axelby said.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll speaks to the media.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said she recognized there was community concern about the hoods.(ABC News)

At the time Queensland’s Family and Child Commission (QFCC) said the use of spit hoods on young people was “completely unacceptable and should be outlawed”.

Principal Commissioner Luke Twyford renewed calls for the practice to end, saying all of Australia’s children commissioners had written an open letter calling for the practice to be banned.

The QPS said it acknowledged concerns raised by the Queensland Human Rights Commissioner and the QFCC over the continued use of safety hood.

“We recognize there are community concerns around the application of safety hoods in police watch houses and we undertook an extensive review of the issue before formally discontinuing their use,” Commissioner Carroll said.

“While safety hoods served a purpose to protect staff, they were very rarely used in our watch houses.

“The QPS will implement a number of safety measures in watch houses, including increased PPE, additional protective screens and rolling out new operational skills training program for watch house staff.”

Safety hoods are no longer used in the majority of other policing jurisdictions in Australia.

Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) spokesperson said safety hoods were used as a “last resort preventive measure” and its policies for dealing with prisoners who bite or spit at officers were currently under review.

Calls to ban spit hoods in legislation

Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman has welcomed the decision, saying “Queensland police deserve credit for scrapping these torture devices”.

“The government should follow through on the commitment by banning them in legislation,” Mr Berkman said.

“Despite the availability of clear alternatives like PPE, spit hoods have been used in prisons and watch houses, on children and adults, and disproportionately on First Nations people.

“There’s no good reason to put a bag over someone’s head, especially in watch houses where children as young as 10 are held in Queensland.”

Sisters Inside chief executive officer Debbie Kilroy said restraining a person with a spit hood risked asphyxiation and death.

“I’ve watched CCTV footage of people being spit hooded and it’s actually the most horrifying thing to watch,” she said.

Ms Kilroy said Sisters Inside welcomed the QPS operational ban, but also urged the state government to take action.

“At the moment it’s a decision by the Police Commissioner only for the ban … but that can be changed by anybody else that comes into that position,” Ms Kilroy said.

“To really cement this decision of the Police Commissioner, the government must ban spit hoods within legislation.”

Sisters Inside founder Debbie Kilroy outside her organisation's offices in West End, Brisbane.
Sisters Inside founder and CEO Debbie Kilroy says restraining a person with a spit hood risks asphyxiation and death.(ABC News)

The National Ban Spit Hoods Coalition, which includes Sisters Inside, also called for the state government to enshrine a ban on spit hoods in law, in a statement on Monday night.


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