Disegno #13

Spit Guard Pro by Kit Design

London

9 May 2017

The Spit Guard Pro is a restraint device that was destined for a London Metropolitan Police pilot scheme which was announced – and then swiftly halted – in early September 2016. As a design object, it occupies thorny ethical territory.

Is it a good design? It fulfils its intended function to prevent detainees from biting or spitting at officers and transferring contagious diseases such as Hepatitis C. Moreover, it introduces safety features to remedy areas in which previous spit hoods have failed disastrously. Its thin mesh allows its (involuntary) wearer to see and hear, while the muzzle and neck elastic are, in principle, capacious enough to enable normal breathing.

Assessing whether the device fulfils its function, however, seems the wrong yardstick. The numerous instances of spit hoods being used recklessly – sometimes with fatal consequences – and the abject terror induced by having one’s head forcibly covered have led laymen, human rights groups and politicians to castigate the Met’s proposal in no uncertain terms. Spit Guard Pro is a sombre reminder that we ought to think of design as much in terms of application as we do in terms of functionality. “Spit hoods,” asserts Martha Spurrier, the director of civil rights group Liberty, “belong in horror stories.”