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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Watch Your Mouth

Professionalism is earned with every word.

October 01, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

It sounds simple: If it feels good to say it, don't say it. This should be the end of the lesson, but let me expand a bit.

I know young cops. You've watched television shows and movies featuring big time detectives and hyper-tough cops. You might feel that the uniform gives you anonymity to say what you feel in the heat of the moment. But you are not a nameless person in the crowd. You are a police officer. This can be an adrenaline and testosterone driven job, but don't let that cloud your humanity.

If we as cops are going to raise and maintain our professional standards, we can't use profanity, political incorrectness, slang, derogatory slurs and such without punishment. Those officers who use this less than intelligent verbiage will be met with disciplinary actions, sanctions, and probably legal issues. Again, if you think it would be cool to say, keep your mouth shut.

Some counter me here, stating that too many cops and administrators have their fingers on the sensitivity button. I do not disagree with some of these debates. Far too often we sugarcoat the facts. When we do interact, we must do so with dignity and decorum.

The Camera Never Blinks

You really don't want to get caught on camera saying the wrong thing; you don't need to be a PIO or featured on "COPS" for this to be an issue with today's technology. The best way I can describe this is that everyone today with a cell phone has the capability of videoing you with the addition of audio. Don't believe me? Go do something horrendously stupid and within 24 hours you will be on the news and Internet.

Now, don't get defensive. I'm still amazed at the number of lackluster performances from coppers on car videos. Yes, these instruments are there to protect you and assist in prosecutions, but it's a two-way street so pay attention! You need to be especially careful because a number of agencies still have the media and public listening in to every action-packed word you utter on the radios. Even if it is a secure net, recordings could haunt you.

Text messages, e-mails, and mobile data terminals are next in the media that catch our colossal screw-ups. A tape or poor cell phone quality microphone may give you a pass, but if you typed it, you did it. There are too many cases to quote here, and the retrieval of these documents is getting easier, so watch what you type.

Especially when you're angry.

Never write in anger; you will end up in the 3rd precinct (or it will get you in a fix). Once I wrote a memo in anger in reply to a deputy chief's memo; I got transferred to the 3rd precinct that afternoon. Lesson learned. Exhale, count to infinity, let the reply sit for a bit if you can, or get a proofreader to help you tone down your rant before sending.

Not for Public Consumption

There are some things you should never say on the job. There are other things that you need to say, but it's best not to let just anyone hear them.

I know cops are jaded. We often make jest of others' misfortunes, often as a coping mechanism. But right or wrong, pay attention to the audience of your statements.

One such circumstance is when you're having a heart-to-heart with a close partner, pal, or whomever you trust with your very life. These in-depth discussions to vent or cope with the stressors of police life may not be for the public's ears. Find a place away from distractions and unwanted earshot. Sometimes what we deal with is not fit for public consumption.

Don't forget, too, that if you are having issues it's OK to get help. Police psychologists and police chaplains are there for you, to listen to whatever you have to say.

We have a profession, get it? A profession and that is what separates us from the movie actors and wannabes...be professional today and every day.

Train the brain as well as the body.

Tags: Patrol Car Video, Professional Image, Handling Stress


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

copz1998 @ 10/2/2009 4:17 AM

Bill, I couldn't agree with you more. As a Tactical Communications instructor (and sergeant) in California, I have witnessed first-hand the downside of failing to head your advice. You can come to work with shinning boots and brass, pressed uniform and a clean car. The moment you open your mouth and make the off-handed comment, all the polish in the world can not clean up the mess.

Keep up the good work!
Sgt Brown

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