Spitting on police: The dangers for officers, charges suspects face

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by JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

kvue.com

Posted on August 22, 2012 at 6:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 22 at 9:46 PM

AUSTIN -- There's a type of crime on police we don't often think about -- spitting. It can make officers sick and cause some to get angry.

"They are human. That's any human person. What would you do if you got spit on?" said Sam Higgins, a concerned citizen.

It's a natural human reaction, but when you're a police officer, reacting could get you into trouble.

"Spitting, it's not just offensive, it's assault," said President of the Austin Police Association Wayne Vincent.

The Austin Police Department has disciplined at least three officers this year in connection with spitting cases; two were fired after an incident on camera. The police chief says Michelle Gish and her partner weren't fired for the spitting but rather for lying on their reports.

In another incident, an officer was suspended for five days for slamming a man's head on the hood of a car.

"We try our best to train the human element out of police officers. You can't do that. If you're spit on, you're going to react," said Vincent.

APD does not train officers how to respond to spitting.

"Unfortunately the department hasn't really given real good guidance on this. The last incident we had, the assistant chief said his reaction would have been to walk away. We're not trained to walk away when someone assaults us," Vincent said.

"I don't expect for them to be perfect. They're human beings like we are," Higgins said.

Police officers may be human beings, but they are human beings who have to answer for their actions while wearing the uniform.

Doctors say spitting can be dangerous, especially if the person is carrying a transmittable disease.

"You never want to be spit on, even by somebody's who's healthy," said John Potter, DMD of FLOSS Dentistry. "But if someone is carrying a transmissible disease, of course it's going to raise a flag. The big problems would be hepatitis -- hepatitis B, hepatitis C."

When a suspect spits on an officer, they can be charged with assault, aggravated assault or even attempted capital murder.

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