Can a bad word be a good tactic?
There are moments in policing that are so dynamic and unexpected, you might blurt out words in a seemingly Tourette’s-like manner
Can the use of bad words sometimes be a good tactic?
As a rule, I have taught officers to develop verbalization discipline to ensure they look like the professionals they are. However sometimes a bad situation can result in a spontaneous leak of “bad” words. Other times officers might even choose to use undeleted expletives.
Let’s discuss the issue of police profanity.
The Spontaneous Leak
There are moments in law enforcement when you see things happen right in front of you that are so dynamic and unexpected, they rip the emotions raw. You might blurt out words in a seemingly Tourette’s-like manner.
For example, I was pursuing a stolen vehicle years ago at over 90 mph on a four-lane highway with a grass median between the northbound two lanes and the southbound two lanes. I could see up ahead a state trooper approaching with lights on, when suddenly the officer swung across the median and set up a stationery roadblock in the path of the stolen car.
The young trooper miscalculated the driver’s propensity to comply and instead of stopping as he was required by law to do, the criminal barreled into the occupied squad at a speed of 93 mph, demolishing both vehicles. I believe the short prayer I prayed was, “HOLY SH-T!” To my surprise both the trooper and the criminal sustained only minor injuries.
Rehearsal to Avoid the Spontaneous Leak
Although such words are not considered the language of the professional, they may spontaneously spurt out during the sudden onset of violent, unexpected events.
In the case of use of force, however, you can prevent such spontaneous leaks from occurring by rehearsing effective combat communication.
For example, when you practice your strikes, shout: “Back.”
When you practice your decentralizations (take downs), shout: “Down.”
When you practice your control holds, communicate: “Police, relax, you’re under arrest. Stop resisting.”
When you practice deployment of your TASER, shout: “TASER! TASER! TASER!
When you are about to deploy your impact munition, shout: “Bean bag! Bean bag! Bean bag!”
If you have trained to say these things during anticipated stressful events, then during street applications these are the words that will come out rather than, “Stop resisting or I’ll break your f----ing arm, you a---hole.” These untrained words will negatively color an otherwise defensible use of force. By using these words, you are loading the defendant’s legal gun, which will later be pointed right at you.
I have always said that we can shoot someone and that can be defensible but calling someone an a—hole, even if the suspect’s photo appears next to the word in the street officer’s dictionary, is not readily defensible.
The Problem with Rough Words
Any use of force is scrutinized. Therefore, for the sake of the officer who uses a level of force that allows them to win on the street, you want all aspects of that force to be defensible, even the verbalization. If you call someone a mother-f--ker just before you use justifiable force on them, that one word will most certainly be used to cast doubt on your use of force, whether you strike them with a punch, a baton, or a bullet.
The Blue-on-Blue Problem
There is another problem with overuse of the street vernacular, especially when you have a weapon directed at a suspect and you are in plain clothes. To any responding uniform officer not fully briefed on what is occurring, your street vernacular may lead to a blue on blue shooting. The uniformed officer will undoubtedly at some point say, “He didn’t sound like a cop.”
Rehearse the Verbal Take Down of the High-Risk Suspect
If you rehearse the verbalization you will use when taking a high-risk suspect down at gun point (while you are utilizing cover), even if you are not dressed like a cop, you will “sound like a cop.”
In other words, if “Police, don’t move!” followed by “Put your arms out, palms up, and don’t move!” are your first choice of words to use in such a situation, practice those words so they professionally roll off the tongue. By practicing these words, they will be there for you when you need them.
Another problem with adlibbing is that during a truly dangerous event your brain will be distracted from the business of trying to keep you alive. When you are pointing your duty weapon at a suspect with a gun in his belt or even worse in his hand you need to be practiced, focused and precise.
The Deliberate, Last Resort Tactical Cuss
Most police policies declare deadly force should only be used as a last resort. If an officer gets to a point where a suspect is armed, non-compliant and the officer is barely, as they say, to the “left of bang,” that officer might reasonably believe one last attempt at verbalization may include a deliberate life-saving tactical cuss.
An officer on the verge of shooting may reasonably decide to try to save a suspect’s life by one last desperate command, “Drop the gun now or I will FUCKING shoot you!” These words said with the right combination of sincerity and urgency might just prevent an officer-involved shooting. You could call this a last resort tactical cuss.
It is easy to say you will try to eliminate your use of language that on its face seems unprofessional and difficult to defend; however, to suggest that every expletive must or even can be deleted in the world we police in is unrealistic.