POLICE officers at risk of having mucus or even blood spat in their face are getting added protection.

Cumbria Constabulary has become the latest police force in England and Wales to adopt the use of spit guards - after officers were spat at, on average, every three days last year.

There were a total of 120 reports of officers being spat at as they carried out their work in 2018.

Six months ago Cumbria Police said it was considering adopting the use of spit guards. It was one of just six forces in the country which had yet to implement such protection for its officers.

But 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.

Chief Inspector Andy Wilkinson said: “Nobody goes to work to be assaulted – and nobody acting in their professional role should be expected to tolerate being spat at.

“Spitting is a horrible type of assault.

“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.

“I’m aware of officers who have also had blood spat at them.

“Spitting has serious potential health risks as bodily fluids can host a variety of diseases.

“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.

“The national increase in violent crime shows the need for these guards to help keep our officers safe as they work hard to protect the public and solve and deter crime.”

Insp Wilkinson explained that the force carried out an in-depth piece of work into their use and found they have significant benefits and are a safe and pragmatic tactic.

Spit guards have also been adopted by Police Scotland and British Transport Police.

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.

Martin Plummer, chairman of Cumbria Police Federation, said there is nothing worse than being spat at. He thinks it’s as bad, if not worse, as being kicked, punched or slapped.

Mr Plummer is aware of officers who have been subjected to assaults and threats of people spitting including some who’ve had blood spat at them and told by that person they carry contagious diseases.

He 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.

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.

Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said: “It is vital that we ensure that our officers are protected so they can continue to keep our communities safe.

“The simple message to send to anyone who would wish not to be placed in a spit guard is very simple - don’t spit at or bite police officers or indeed anyone else.

“Spitting and biting is a deliberate, disgusting and nasty form of assault which shows a complete lack of respect.

“It can affect officers both physically and mentally, often leading to months of anxiety for them and their families as results from invasive tests for diseases are carried out.

“No-one should be subjected to such a vile form of assault.

“Whilst the introduction of spit guards is an operational decision for the chief constable to make, I am pleased that Mrs Skeer has done so and she has my absolute support."