Note: If you’re offended by curse words, do not read this blog post.
“I used to be the professor of F-ology,” Ricky Taggert says to snickers. Now that he teaches at the NYPD police academy, the 30-year NYPD veteran says he knows that “if I do it, the recruits do it.”
Taggert is one of four Smart Policing trainers leading one of the new segments of training that NYPD officers have to go through, a plan that was underway for over a year but expedited by the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in July 2014.
Cursing is a New York tradition and one that police officers in the city often partake in, including against citizens and the accused. A training slide shows that common community complaints about cursing include officers’ favorite phrases (using only the “F” in the slide): “Shut the F up”; “What the F?”; “Move your F-ing car.”
The trainer uses an example to convince the officers why calling people “scumbags” or using other expletives is bad public service—”and we’re in a service industry, believe it or not. You may not like it, but it is what it is.”
He tells them to imagine that a waiter walks up to you table and asks, “What the fuck do you want?” Or, at the end of the meal, “Give me the goddamn check already, mother fucker.”
Taggert then reminds them that they don’t usually curse on the radio or in front of the police commissioner or around their grandmothers. Slides show Tom Hanks in “Apollo 13” saying “Houston, we have a problem” without cursing; Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, likewise, lands his plane in the Hudson River safely without cursing.
He then plays a “fuck”-filled snippet from “South Park,” followed by “Midnight Cowboy” and “Taxi Driver” to illustrate that the New Yorky “what the fuck you lookin’ at?” is deeply ingrained in the city’s culture.
Taggert tells them about two recruits who were cursing near the old police academy and a citizen asked them to tone down their language. “Why don’t you mind your own business?” one of them responded.
They were both fired.
The same fate may not await the officers in the room, though, if they don’t restrain their mouths, he admits. “It takes just about an act of God to get you out,” Taggart says.
Taggart also makes it clear that they’re not expected to hold back the f-bomb in all situations, including a situation where they need to yell, “Drop the fucking weapon, mother fucker!”—but they need to learn restraint in other situations to help the department regain its reputation. “If I want this city to look at me differently and pay me differently, I’m going to have to be a professional,” he reminds them.
The only time I saw Taggart recoil a bit from the training script, which I had read previousy in One Police Plaza, was before he showed the cops the slide suggesting alternatives to cursing. “I did not write this,” he says. “I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you to use this.” The next side suggested using “mucking” instead of “fucking”; “move the car, my friend” instead of “asshole” or “scumbag”; and trying “sir” instead of “shithead,” even if with a sarcastic tone. The suggestions met with moans and laughter, leaving me to wonder how much less ridiculous the word “scumbag” was than the alternatives.
NYPD brass say that cursing is one of the common citizen complains that the Citizens Complaint Review Board collects and that it is one that affects the police’s reputation and ability to de-escalate dangerous situations.
As Taggart says in this segment about officers who don’t want to change: “Policing across the world is changing. We must combine traditional policing and emotional intelligence.”
This segment ends on a serious note, reminding the cops that department regulations require “treating all prisoners with respect, courtesy and civility.” (#210-04). In addition, they are required to help offenders “secure safety” and immediately get medical help or get them to a hospital if they show symptoms of a heart attack or breathing difficulties.