POLICE in Cumbria are being supplied with spit guards after officers carrying out their duties were spat at every three days on average last year.

The force has joined others across the UK in using this type of protection following reports that officers had been spat at more than 120 times last year.

This type of attack can cause stress, distress and fear - impacting badly on officers’ professional and private lives.

Saliva and blood in saliva can host a variety of diseases, bacteria and viruses.

Officers spat at in some circumstances may have to wait up to six months to make sure they have not been infected.

The use of spit protection is approved by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and has the backing of Cumbria Police Federation, the staff association representing rank-and-file officers.

The loose-fitting and net-like material is placed over the head of a suspect when there is a risk of spitting, with officers explaining to them the reasons for using one.

The guards do not restrict breathing and are designed to maintain clear visibility for the wearer.

They are being rolled out to all operational officers within the coming months.

Officers are being fully trained in their safe and proportionate use before being issued with them.

Chief Inspector Andy Wilkinson said that spitting is a horrible type of assault. “Nobody goes to work to be assaulted – and nobody acting in their professional role should be expected to tolerate being spat at," he said. "Cumbria Constabulary has a duty to help protect those on the frontline, who work hard for their communities and put themselves at risk, in the best way it can."

He added that he was aware of officers who also had blood spat at them. “Spitting has serious potential health risks as bodily fluids can host a variety of diseases," said the Chief Inspector "Sometimes we have cases where officers have had fluids spat at them and the person has known they have infectious diseases and viruses.

“The impact of being spat at by someone who could be carrying an infectious disease can also not be underestimated."

Martin Plummer, chairman of Cumbria Police Federation, said: “The Federation fully supports the constabulary for providing officers with the opportunity to utilise a piece of equipment that will protect themselves and the public, should the need arise, from some vile individuals who feel it is appropriate to spit at officers as they carry out their duties.”