Shot at and missed, spit at and hit
If you work long enough in law enforcement the day will come when someone spits at you. You must prepare your defensible response in advance
I was shot at and missed, spit and hit. This is how I sometimes kiddingly describe my career in law enforcement.
Since retirement, I have written much to help officers prepare for suspects who pose armed and unarmed physical threats. However, this is the first time I have written to help officers prepare for those suspects who spit for spite.
If you work long enough in law enforcement the day will come when someone spits at you. You must prepare your defensible response in advance.
Don’t be conquered
I often say, “The man who angers you, conquers you.”
Spitting is a tactic used by criminals to get officers to overreact. If suspects succeed in their mission, officers may find themselves suspended, fired and/or sued and sometimes even criminally charged, while the criminal laughs all the way to the bank. That is the definition of “conquered.”
To prevent an over-reaction, officers must:
- Prepare mentally and emotionally not to over-react.
- Train for a defensible physical response.
Prepare for a defensible emotional reaction
You naturally feel disgusted when someone spits on you. To mentally calibrate your emotions before this happens, you must tell yourself they are not spitting at you, they are spitting at the uniform. The uniform can take it.
However, with that said, you do not have to stand by and take it. It is alright to react, but not to over-react! Here are some options for preparing for a defensible physical reaction to a spit attack.
1. Physically avoid or block the spit
In a world where there is COVID-19, bloodborne pathogens, tuberculosis and many other communicable diseases, it behooves you to avoid the first sudden assault of the spitter, as well as all subsequent assaults.
At times a spitter gives an advanced warning with what I like to call the guttural gathering, which is the pre-hock noise made as they conjure up the disgusting expectorant. With this warning, you can use the power pivot or side-step to avoid the first onslaught. Then move to control, and or get something between you and the spitter like:
- A pillow
- A clipboard
- A towel
- Their own coat
- Anything within reach that can serve as an impromptu spit shield.
If it is tactically advantageous, move out of range.
2. Get them turned
The spin technique is accomplished by pulling one of their shoulders toward you counter-clockwise as you hit the other shoulder away from you counter-clockwise. In this way you can cause the unsuspecting suspect to quickly spin 180 degrees, facing away from you.
3. Get them controlled
Once you are behind them, control them. My personal preference was to place them either in an arm bar or a rear compliance hold. Once you are behind them with them in a hold (which may be necessary even if they are handcuffed in the case of the spitter), my absolute favorite pressure point control technique was achieved by:
- Maintaining the control hold as I reached for the side of the face. They would tend to turn the head away from my reach allowing me to hook my hand on the chin and control the head by stepping back, taking them off balance.
- Immediately I would roll my index finger, while carefully keeping all digits away from the mouth, laying its palm-side, hard against the mustache area (upper maxilla.) Simultaneously, I would then direct the top of the thumb side of the second knuckle of the index finger hard up against the base of the septum, pressing the finger in and upward causing sharp, controlling pain.
- Once you achieve compliance, you can let up on the pressure without releasing the mechanical hold.
The combination of the control hold and the pain compliance worked too many times for me to count. But once again I must caution that I practiced these holds extensively.
4. Have and use the proper tools
Once the suspect is controlled, you can contain the spitting with the proper equipment such as a spit hood/mask/shield.
Make certain you are trained in the safe use of the tool you choose.
5. Charge, warn jailers and incarcerate
Warn intake officers of the spitting incident. Charge the suspect accordingly to ensure prosecution. A charging protocol for intentional, directed spitting should already exist with your agency and prosecutor’s office.
While using the proper protective equipment and cleaning agents, either you or someone whose job it is, needs to clean your squad before others are transported in it, if that is where the spitting offense took place.
Clean yourself and handcuffs thoroughly. Whenever this happened to me, I would call out of service with the clearance of my commander, place my uniform in a plastic bag for cleaning, shower and re-dress in my spare uniform I always had available in my locker.
7. Follow-up with the DA
When deliberately contaminated in this manner, follow up with the DA to make certain the proper forms are filled out identifying you as a victim-witness, requesting a court-ordered follow-up to determine if the suspect carried any dangerous pathogens. This type of personal follow-up sometimes also breathes energy into the prosecutorial efforts of the prosecutor as well. This is done not just for your protection, but the protection of your loved ones as well.
If the spitter had tuberculosis, you want to know since you may need a TB booster vaccination.
Spitting in the face of a police officer is disgusting. When it happens to you, you will have many people on your side. This is not the time to over-react but the time to possess the skill to react effectively and defensibly. Prepare!