Q&A/Georgia sheriff outlaws foul-mouthed employees
Shortly after taking office in January, Athens-Clarke County, Ga., Sheriff Ira Edwards issued an order banning employees’ use of profanity while on duty. In addition to being the county’s first African-American elected official, Edwards is an ordained minister.
Q: Why did you issue the ban on profanity?
A: In general, we want to take the sheriff’s office to another level of professionalism. We want to treat other people how we would want to be treated. For so long in law enforcement, people have felt they have to use that language to get their message across. I don’t do it personally, and I don’t think you have to use profanity to get someone to do what you want them to do. The rule already existed, I just needed to reiterate it.
Q: How did people react?
A: There were some pros and cons. They were pretty receptive for the most part. Some were concerned for a moment, but we let them know that it was nothing against them. We made verbal judo training available to deputies to show them how to talk without using profanity.
Q: What is the punishment for violating the order?
A: We don’t like to look at it as punishment. We would just correct the problem. We would sit them down and talk to them about their behavior.
Q: Have there been any violations so far?
A: No, no one has violated it. That lets you know that they are on board.
Q: Are officers expected to report each other?
A: No, we’re not waiting to hear anyone say anything out of the ordinary. What people do on their own time is their business, and what they do when I leave, I don’t know. But when they put on their uniform, they represent me. My main concern is when we’re directing profanity to someone who could react violently. Our job is to de-escalate the problem, not add to it. Also, when dealing with the public, they will respect you if you respect them.
Q: Do you think the rule would work in other counties?
A: It all depends on the leader. If the leader can set a good example, then it will work, and it won’t be hypocritical. To each, his own. I do what works for me, and, for the 17 years [I’ve been in law enforcement], I’ve never had to use profanity.