The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the American Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (AAPA) today released a new fact sheet that they hope will bring law enforcement officers up to speed on the real risks of HIV that they face from possible exposure to the bodily fluids of those they police.
According to these organizations, every year people with HIV are the subject of felony criminal charges ranging from aggravated assault to intentional HIV transmission following police encounters in which defendants are accused of spitting at or biting police, usually in the course of a stop or arrest for a minor incident, such as disorderly conduct. Although the risk of transmission ranges from zero to far less than 1%, and there are no known cases of HIV transmission to a police or corrections officer from such events, spit and bite incidents have resulted in new or enhanced criminal charges and sentences of more than thirty years in prison. The fact sheet, Spit Does Not Transmit, provides current information, complete with citations to published experts, about transmission risks from non-sexual contact with a person’s bodily fluids.
“Accurate information is critical to law enforcement and corrections officers – In our line of work, our lives and the lives of others depend on it. Studies show just how much misinformation about HIV is transmitted among people in every part of the country, and every profession,” said Joseph Akers, Jr. NOBLE Interim Executive Director. “The nature of law enforcement is such that we encounter people from all walks of life with all sorts of problems. We are regularly exposed to risks; that’s the nature of the job. It is important for officer safety that we understand the facts about HIV transmission, and it is also important that an arrest not turn into a more serious set of charges simply because the arrestee has HIV.”
Statistics show that of all the cases brought against people with HIV for so-called exposure offenses, twenty-five percent (25%) arise from incidents in which spitting or biting has been alleged, and almost all of these have been brought by law enforcement or corrections employees. Law reform efforts that would eliminate the ability to prosecute people on the basis of their HIV or other disease status when they act without the intent or real ability to transmit – as is generally always the case with spitting and biting – are under discussion in multiple states, said Rashida Richardson, a staff attorney with CHLP.
“It is a waste of time and money to devote public safety resources to conduct that, while distasteful, poses no risk of harm,” observed David LaBahn, Executive Director of the American Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “Too many prosecutions are based on outdated notions of what HIV is and how it is transmitted. Information is the antidote, and this is a good place to start.”
[Although focused on the US, this factsheet will be useful anywhere police are inadequately trained on HIV-related risks during occupational exposure, including discarded needles.]
The fact sheet is available below and on The Center for HIV Law and Policy’s website.