Oh Crap, I've Got Potty Mouth

In our politically correct world today we know that it is unacceptable to use certain types of language or tones of voice when dealing with the public, even if the moment gets a little bit heated, as it often does in policing. If we do use colorful language in our dealings with the public, we usually end up having a visit with our internal investigations section and likely a warning or fine to accompany it. Throwing out F-bombs when dealing with our customers, whether victims, complainants or suspects, is simply unacceptable. That I understand. But something interesting happens to people under stress. Sometimes, when in the middle of heated conversations, we get potty mouth and the political correctness of our language goes out the window.

One thing I have noticed on occasion throughout my career is that some female police officers end up falling into this same trap. I tell you, potty mouth sounds a whole lot worse on a female officer than it does on a male officer, just like grey hair and thick midsections look a whole lot better on men than women. They are "distinguished," and we are just old. It sucks to be us. You guys even get to pee in parking lots. But we know when a kid is ours--so I guess we are even.

When I was a patrol officer, I had potty mouth and I didn't even realize it. I wouldn't use it so much with the public, but with my colleagues. It made me feel like one of the guys to talk back and forth with humorous banter. It was huge fun using interesting words to point out their shortcomings and have a laugh or two at their expense, because you knew it was coming right back at you. After the first six months of my career, I remember my mom asking me where the young lady she raised went to, because she couldn't believe some of the stuff that was coming out of my mouth. I think some of us try to fit in by using language that makes us sound tougher, or like we don't care, or to prove we aren't too sensitive. It also becomes a part of your persona on the street as well. Sharp language with a bit of an attitude when dealing with suspects gives you more of an authoritative look than the Barbie-doll-cutesy look that does not exude confidence or authority. So we do change somewhat to fit our environment. Just like dogs--the fur on their backs goes up when they approach another dog because it makes them look bigger. Same sort of thing, I guess. But there is a balance between personifying authority and just plain rudeness. It is not uncommon to see ourselves and our colleagues imitate one of the arrestees and we all have a huge laugh over it. Not a class act, but it happens. It shouldn't but it does.

Because we are all brought up differently, some of us have grown up using language that is a little more edgy. One of my girlfriends, an undercover officer, is like that. Ever since I've known her, she has used language that was not acceptable in church. When you first meet her it is extremely striking, but once you get to know her you get used to it. She even jokes around about being proud of herself when she did a drug presentation to some government officials and she never used the F-word once.

If edgy language is part of your personality and you bring that to the job, that is fine, although you will find less and less people accepting it as time goes on. And as long as you treat your clients with respect, there should be no problem. However, take a look at yourself and ask, "Have I always talked this way? Or am I changing to fit in to my environment?" When I first started on the police service I know I changed, and not for the better. When I went from patrol to community services after 6 years on the street, I was at the community services Christmas party, and told an extremely rude and disgusting joke to all of the guys and their wives. On B Platoon it would have gotten a standing ovation. At the community services Christmas party you could have heard a pin drop. I'm sure the conversations on the drive home started with "Who WAS that girl, anyway?" Yep, not one of my proudest moments. So, take a look at yourself. Are you getting a potty mouth? Are you treating arrests, complainants and victims with respect? Are you changing to fit in better with the guys? You don't have to. In fact they will accept you more the way you are than if you change to be someone else. They just need a chance to get to know you.