Police begin to take seriously when officers use profanity

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Palo Alto Police Department is finally taking it seriously when officers use profanity, independent police auditor Mike Gennaco told council tonight (Nov. 14).

His latest report covering uses of force and citizen complaints from the first half of the year found at least three instances of officers using profanity.

Swearing can make officers look angry or out of control, and it can be embarrassing if the language comes out during a criminal prosecution, he said.

“After the handcuffs are on, after things have stabilized — there needs to be a de-escalation,” he said.
Body-worn cameras and the police auditor’s repeated calls for improvement led the department to make changes, said Stephen Connolly, who works with Gennaco.

“We’ve noticed a significant improvement in the department’s willingness to engage on that issue,” he said. “It took a while to get them to take that seriously.”

Chief Andrew Binder said the policy manual allows officers to use profanity in a select few instances, such as when they’re emphasizing a command.

Otherwise, they get counseling from a supervisor if they swear. The department hasn’t had any repeat offenders, Binder said.

Gennaco and Connolly’s most recent report covered an incident involved a man who yelling that he had a gun at a hotel. Officers arrested him after shooting him with a plastic pellet.

“One of the officers who ultimately used force volunteered for the assignment by saying, ‘I’ll fucking light him up’ in a cavalier way that certainly would have played badly in the aftermath of a worse outcome,” Gennaco said in his report.

Another incident was about a woman who punched an officer while she was being arrested on a warrant.
The officer who was punched used “a couple of profanities” in recapping the incident to his fellow officers, “and then casually said ‘b**** is crazy,’” Gennaco said.

A third incident from the same report involved a man who was on drugs and ran from police. The first officer who responded cussed while taking the man down, and then again after he was in handcuffs.

Supervisors found the first use of profanity was reasonable as a tactic.

“The second, however, was deemed problematic because it seemed more a product of frustration/anger than calculation,” Gennaco said.

Many of the instances of profanity involved two officers talking to each other outside of the earshot of any witnesses, Gennaco said.

“Things get said in a way that’s not ideal,” he told council.

City Manager Ed Shikada said tonight’s meeting wasn’t for council members to talk about any particular incidents, so they didn’t get into specifics.

“I have been troubled by some of the language that’s been documented,” Councilwoman Alison Cormack said.

Councilman Greer Stone said that swearing is more than embarrassing. The language that officers use can also derail a prosecution, he said.


  1. What’s “embarrassing” is coddling criminals and micromanaging the police. If this keeps up, no one will want to be a police officer, and we’ll all be on our own.

  2. It seems like the police auditor has a little too much time on his hands if he is going to assume the role of “language cop”. Is this position really necessary?

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