Cop Talk: But I Heard it on TV!!


Police jargon is like a person’s accent or the climate or types of food. It varies across the country.

I urge you to do a bit homework before injecting dialogue in your books that doesn’t ring true. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide the necessary information.

When I was conducting the research for my  book on police procedure I had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Here are a few examples of what I learned:

  • Perp – This is pretty much a TV term. Not many, if any, police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. In fact, most cops don’t even say perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, subject, or a**hole. Listen to newscasts. You rarely ever hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” It’s always, “”We apprehended the suspect/subject at 0100 hours.”

I’ve heard officers from the West Coast say it’s an East Coast term and I’ve heard officers on the East Coast say it’s a West Coast thing. The reality is … It’s not a “thing” at all. In fact, a couple of weeks ago while at the Writers’ Police Academy, officers from all over the country participated in the Sunday debriefing panel. I asked each of them, “Do you or your fellow officers use the term “perp” when referring to a suspect?” 100% of the officers said they did not.

Actually, I worked my entire career as a police officer on the East Coast and never once heard “perp” spoken by another officer unless he/she was making jokes about an unrealistic TV cop show.

  • Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all, if any, cops use “Vic” when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but real-life cops? Not so much. Actually, some real-life cops refer to their police cars, if they’re driving a Crown Victoria, as a Vic.


What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one. They say victim or dead guy. Maybe even an occasional “maggot snack.” But not Vic.

  • Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or to the actual troubled children. Again, not all, if any, members of law enforcement use this term. Most simply say juvenile, or youthful offender, or (hold on to hats because this one’s a real shocker) some even call those troubled youngsters “kids.” I know, shocking, isn’t it?


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