Northumbria Police is introducing spit guards to protect officers and staff.
The decision comes after it was revealed that 341 employees were spat at last year – the first time such data had been so comprehensively recorded in the Force.
Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon said: “This is an horrendous form of assault and as a member of the chief officer team I have a duty to help protect those on the front-line as best I can.
“Spitting has serious potential health risks as saliva can host a variety of diseases, bacterial infections, and other viruses such as colds and flu.
“The physiological impact of being spat at by someone who could be carrying an infectious disease can also not be underestimated. Anyone who has been the victim of such an offence faces an agonising six-month wait for test results to come through to find out if transmission has occurred.
“Spit guards have been proven to be an appropriate way to protect against such actions. Importantly, they can help resolve a situation using a lower use of force than alternative restraint, so they are in fact better for the person concerned.
“I want to take this opportunity to reassure the public that they will only be used when absolutely necessary, that is when an officer genuine believes there is a substantial risk of such an assault occurring. It will then be removed as soon as the person no longer poses a danger.
“Ultimately, it is hoped we will not have to use spit guards.”
The guards, which have been medically-tested, also offer protection against biting.
They are made of a single-use mesh fabric with a very thin plastic panel at the front to stop the saliva getting through. The person wearing it is still able to see and hear.
The guards will be issued to all front-line police officers and detention officers.
Assistant Chief Constable Bacon added: “Officers will only be issued with a spit guard once they have been fully trained in their safe, proportionate and effective use.
“I also want to make it clear that special consideration will be given to their use on vulnerable individuals, including those who have mental health issues.
“Exceptions will be made in their use on anyone who is bleeding or vomiting heavily or with breathing difficulties or illness.”
Northumbria Police joins 36 of the 43 police forces in the UK to use spit guards.
Their use is approved nationally by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and supported locally by the GMB, Unison and Police Federation.