BERKELEY (CBS SF) – The practice of putting mesh-like coverings, or spit hoods over detainees heads during police arrests is under review in Berkeley.

The sack-like hoods were meant to stop the spread of communicable diseases in the event an officer is spat on.

Law enforcement defends the restraints, especially in cases involving 5150 mental health patients, but a local police reform organization wants to ban them.

Berkeley Cop Watch, a volunteer group, has published a list of reasons for a ban on their Facebook page. They say the hoods are dehumanizing and degrading, and can cause detainees to panic, which can escalate the situation. They recommend officers be provided with surgical masks, instead.

Spit hoods are used by police departments and emergency response providers in cities across the country.

“It’s a real threat … the reaction of any person who has someone spit in their face is to retaliate or react in some way,” Sgt. Spencer Fomby told the East Bay Express. “Officers clearly cannot use force, so to manage that we use the hood.” He said the use of spit hoods is rare, though.

“The main argument is about optics — the way it looks,” said Fomby. “But the balance of public safety outweighs the optics in this situation.”

The use of spit hoods is coming up for review by city’s Police Review Commission. The 9-member panel will consider presentations from the police department, as will as a medical care provider before making a final recommendation.

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