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Mark Clark

Mark Clark

Mark Clark is the public information officer for a law enforcement agency in the southwest. He is also a photographer and contributor to POLICE Magazine.
Patrol

This Blog Is Almost Rated G

Using profanity may not always have the desired effect.

July 11, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Among the privileges I asked for when I agreed to do a blog was minimal editorial intervention. I wanted the freedom to communicate what I wanted to say in the manner I wanted to say it.

This reactionary bent was largely the result of 25 years spent enduring a variety of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department indoctrinations and my ensuing resentment of each. I knew that this pique was shared by others who'd likewise sat through too many death by PowerPoint lectures ranging from hostile workplace issues to sexual-harassment matters, all the while being fully aware of the rampant hypocrisies being exercised up and down the department's food chain.

The singular difference was that my emancipation from the department had granted with it a forum in which I could give some voice of this shared resentment to a larger audience while touching on a variety of other issues. I thought that I might also enjoy the ancillary freedom to employ the same straight-shooting, off-the-cuff parlance cops routinely use among trustest peers.

But an e-mail from a West Coast police officer has prompted a little introspection.

The writer opened by saying some pretty nice things—I refrain from posting the letter in its entirely for I am prone to blush—and established a tone that could only be classified as amiable. Then he got to the point of his correspondance: He was dismayed at the frequency with which I use curse words.

He went on to say that while he agreed with much of what I had to say, he often had to "clean it up" when sharing the material as training fodder with others. He noted, too, that its undiluted form made it difficult to cite as a credible source for justifying an officer's actions irrespective of some valuable insight it might otherwise contain. The only assertion I might have taken issue with was when he said that I had included on the site a caveat against the use of expletives and yet exercised them myself. That warning was of my boss' initiative, not mine. Still, point taken.

And so I went back and re-read some of the old blogs. In some, such as the piece wherein I actually advocated the occasional use of profanity, its usage was obviously germane to the topic. Nor did I find myself feeling too guilty about its use on some of the less serious pieces as the juxtaposition of some choice pejorative with an otherwise salient sentiment just strikes me as pretty ****ing funny (Obviously, I am working on reconciling antagonistic ends here. Hang with me).

But I am nothing if not reflective (see above) and on more serious fare I recognized that other words could have been more effective or the pertinent passage excised without harm to the piece. As such, they were superfluous. For better or worse, I have noticed that other law enforcement publications are increasingly adhering to a similar template—talking "man-to-man" with their readers and dispensing with a bunch of high-falutin' words.

That profanity was reflective of some of that parlance I'd sought and been granted. The kind that calls into question not only the legitimacy of birthrights but the species from which descends; that assumes certain carnal practices of others, and is content to confuse one orifice for another. In routinely invoking it I was as happy as that cliché of a kid in a candy store.

And just as mature.

Like many cops, I like to think that people within our profession can take a joke and not get holier than thou all the time. That peculiar bias is part and parcel why so many of are fed up with some of that indoctrinating stuff I mentioned earlier. But we do have different values and principles, each in accordance with our upbringing and beliefs. Some of these are Judeo-Christian based; others are decidedly secular in nature. For my part, I am decidedly in the latter camp.

But regardless of their background, our readers have indulged my request for long enough now. While I have been taken to task on multiple occasions and with some occasional cause, I have not had much in the way of criticism for some of my less creative adjectives, adverbs, and nouns. Yet I don't doubt that there are others who probably feel much like my latest correspondent does. Indeed, there are a couple that I consider friends that I know make a generally conscientious effort to avoid using vulgarities and probably wish I'd abstain, as well. Courtesy has stayed their tongue. Through their example, I will try and stay my hand.

Not to worry. I am not going all "born again" or going "p.c." on ya, and if my POLICE podcast gets off the ground I will doubtlessly use a bad word or two, especially as I want a freeflow exchange of ideas.

I am just pledging to try and be a little more discriminating in how I communicate my thoughts from now on, particularly in a medium which affords me every opportunity to and little excuse not to. Because while I want to do justice to your time, ideally I would like to do so without offending you any more than necessary.

Which brings me to a couple of other points as to why this blog is going to be even longer than normal. The reader's e-mail serves as a great example of how effective the appropriate choice of words and tone can be in communicating a concern. If he had jumped in my s*** and chewed me out, I would have probably invited him to pucker up and involve himself with my nether regions. But he didn't, and so he didn't put me on the defensive.

That is hugely important and a lesson I could have used decades ago: Don't put people needlessly on the defensive. For all the common knowledge that people tend to entrench themselves further when their backs get pressed up against the wall, we still do it. Then we wonder why we don't make headway with them.

True, there are those intractable souls that "you just can't reach" (a nod to Strother Martin). But while they may stand out in your mind I honestly think that they constitute a smaller demographic than what some might suspect. In politely addressing what you perceive a legitimate concern and giving a sound and lucid justification of your posture, you avail yourself a greater chance of effecting change than I had by basically telling people that I thought they were full of bovine byproducts.

Can the use of this latter tact be effective? Not really. Cathartic? Oh, yes.

But save it for that smaller demographic I mentioned.

They deserve it.

Related:

Profanity as Verbal Judo

Tags: Verbal Communication, policemag, L.A. County Sheriff


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

Scott @ 7/12/2012 12:21 AM

Reminds me of a use of force incident when I was working my custody stint. I was alone in my compound the deputies assigned to the two adjoining compounds were not present. There was an inmate creating a disturbance as he walked down the compound. I had him step out of the line of inmates he was walking with to quell the disturbance and he decided he wanted to fight. I took his back, placed him in a carotid restraint, swept his legs and took him down. He began screaming for the 200 inmates in the barracks to come out and lynch me. As I was putting him to sleep, I told him, “Shut up! Shut up!” and finally, “Shut the fuck up!” After I avoided the sea of responding deputies who swiped said inmate from me, the watch commander interviewed him for the force investigation. The inmate actually admitted to everything, but said he was offended that I cussed at him. The lieutenant gave me a written reprimand for using profanity toward an inmate. I was dumbfounded. The next day I saw him in his office and stopped in. I told him the force incident reminded me of the end of Apocalypse Now. The part where Marlon Brando was really dinging out, just before he was killed. He said, "We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write 'fuck' on their airplanes because it's obscene." He didn’t have any comment or sense of humor.

Ryan @ 7/12/2012 6:35 AM

Scott, you're incident sounds pretty similar to mine. I currently work in corrections and was in a dorm one night having a confrontation with an inmate. He was beginning to get aggressive so I decided it was better to walk out then stay to see what was going to happen. As I was leaving, he continued to swear at me and then went as far as threatening to kill me and my family when he got out. So after he said that, I turned around and said, "Shut the f*** up b***h." About a week later I receive a grevience from the inmate because I cussed him out. I admitted to it and went through the disciplinary process. I received 3 months probation for saying those 2 words after he had threatened my family. The worst part about the whole thing is during my sit down with the warden, he told me "Never admit to that sh**." That right there made me lose respect for the whole state agency I still work for. Being told to lie about something so small by the leading authority of the prison still makes me wonder why I continue working there.

India @ 7/12/2012 9:40 AM

Scott and Ryan, I am retired L.E.O. once video cameras were installed in cruisers, a plethora of complaints came not from the public, but from command officers reviewing the videos. The reason? When responding to any incident that required "lights and siren" the video and audio would automatically turn on. Officers would then use maximum speed to reach the call. But as might be expected, various drivers would not see or hear that cruiser and pull out in front, causing the officer (usually alone) to swear at the close call. Command began pulling officers in for counseling telling them that it "looks bad" when they swore. I was astonished.

mtarte @ 7/13/2012 9:49 PM

Oh wow. I can't tell you the number of times I was told to cool my language by a command wienie only to hear them swear like a broke Hong Kong sailor in a whorehouse. The hypocrisy was oozing in command country. A friend of mine in another department said their agency was looking to include "street language" in their force policy. Never heard if they did or not, but really? Getting dinged for saying a few potty-mouthed words while fighting a suspect? Get real. There are times that it is appropriate and fighting a suspect or facing down an armed one seems to be that time.

John @ 7/18/2012 12:59 AM

Dean, how about two blogs? A censored Sunday school version & a version for us readers who lack the keen observation skills to notice that you are so vulgar.

Halderon @ 7/19/2012 2:55 PM

Dear Dean: We are responsive to our environment. I recall Police One publishing a column that said,"In pain? Swear your way out!"-we both just practice preventive medicine. Lewis Black, the angry man, said on his opening night on Broadway,"There are no dirty words. They are only words that mature adults use to express frustration and anger. What do those who don't swear say when they are fired from a 25 year job, losing all benefits. Oh, pussy feathers, I lost everything. See, that doesn't convey the feelings that you need to express." Lewis and I will continue our quest for self-help, and seriously that is all that it needs to do. They are a safety valve, and sometimes, like "beauty" they exist only in the mind of the beholder.

Gus @ 7/20/2012 2:14 AM

WTF?! LOL!

Ima Leprechaun @ 7/26/2012 1:32 AM

I am a big believer in more Xanax for LEO's. I tried corrections for a very short stint after I retired and after I was attacked I figured $8.00 an hour just wasn't worth dying over. It was a Juvie Max Security Private Prison. I don't mind putting them in, I just dont want to live with them. The company running things was the worst mess I ever saw in my life. No training, I couldn't tell the inmates from the guards, no set uniforms for good or bad guys. And when I turned that female guard in for sleeping with three inmates one of her boyfriends got personal and tried to kill me, how rude. Just no sense of humor. Oh Pussy feathers! I love Lewis Black too. As a LEO I never swore at anybody at work except supervisors but its just a mind set. But It never bothered me if the others did.

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