Should you swear at suspects?

Submitted by:
Gary T. Klugiewicz, PoliceOne Columnist


Is it appropriate and justifiable to use profanity in an effort to gain compliance from a subject who fails to follow your verbal commands? Dr. George Thompson, founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, approached that question in a recent class I attended.

In Thompson’s expert opinion, since profanity “colors actions negatively” it should be avoided for both tactical and legal reasons. From a tactical perspective, the increased intensity of your voice, facial expressions and body language when issuing commands that include swearing— not necessarily the words themselves — are what makes the commands finally work. The use of profanity can work against you by “setting someone off.” From a legal perspective, foul language appears unprofessional and uncontrolled, reflecting negatively on you in court. 

Bob Willis, a nationally known defensive tactics trainer, noted that although damage control could be conducted to deal with the use of profanity by claiming it was a “spontaneous utterance,” this approach should be considered just that: damage control. It is not justification.  He suggested that trainers view the use of profanity under certain circumstances as being, “not trained but understandable,” rather than being, “not trained but justifiable.”

My personal experience in court with the use of profanity as a justifiable tactic supports Thompson’s and Willis’ views.  Profanity should be avoided at all costs.  In one case, a judge went so far as to say that the use of profanity by the officer “showed a premeditation to use excessive force.”  In another case, the use of profanity by the plaintiff visibly upset certain jury members to the benefit of the officer being accused of the use of excessive force in an arrest.    

Use forceful and professionally appropriate verbal commands in combination with assertive facial expressions and body language to gain compliance. Why take the chance of “setting off” the person you are dealing with or offending those persons who will eventually have to review and pass judgement on your actions? 

As Dr. Thompson loves to say, “You have to look good and sound good, or it’s no good.”  The bottom line for Doc Thompson is that, “if you know your shit, you don’t have to talk shit.”   

Think about it…everyone is listening.

Gary is employed by PoliceOne as a Use-of-Force subject matter expert, researcher, program developer, and training specialist. He is also the director of ACMi® Systems, and a member of the Team One Network that, in cooperation with the Northwest Wisconsin Technical College, provides defensive tactics, firearms, and tactical training throughout the United States.

He is retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department after 25 years of service where he was promoted to the rank of captain. As former Street Survival® Seminar instructor and internationally known defensive tactics instructor, Gary has impacted hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers.

Even more importantly, as a righteous police officer use-of-force defense expert , Gary has defended scores of officers in legal proceedings.  

Gary Klugiewicz is the director of research & development for the Verbal Judo Institute. He has collaborated with Dr. Thompson to develop a series of specialized training programs for corrections, mental health, and other public service employees, as well as, one for private citizens, including children and young adults. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Verbal Judo's (Tactical Communication for the Correctional Professional) training program.

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