Perps, Vics, and Juvies, Oh My!


Police jargon (since I’m in Boston, that’s pronounced “jahgon”) is like an accent. It varies across the country. I urge you writers to do a little homework before you inject dialogue in your books that doesn’t ring true. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the necessary information.

Public Affairs Officer David Crawford

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:

1) Perp – Not many 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 or ***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 at 0100 hours.”


2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but not all real-life cops. 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.


3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or to the actual troublesome kids. Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term. Many simply say juvenile.

The Bulletin Board

– Sgt. Josh Moulin, a regular contributor to The Graveyard Shift (high-tech and computer crimes), was featured on last Saturday night’s episode of Tru TV’s Most Shocking series.

– A&E Television’s 360 Crime Executive Producer, Laura Fleury, will be guest blogging on The Graveyard Shift this week. Please see yesterday’s post for details.

– Later in the week we will be announcing ways to win DVDs of Crime 360s entire first season!

– NYC Medical Examiner/Author Jonathan Hayes will be returning to The Graveyard Shift this week.

– Norfolk, Virginia’s police department just added 41 new recruits to their force of 772 sworn officers. Among the new officers are a 20 year-old mother who stands at an even 5 feet tall, and a 21 year veteran of the NYC Police department who came out of a 3 1/2 year retirement to sign up with the Norfolk department.

– San Diego Chief medical Examiner, Dr. Glenn Wagner answered the following question for

Forensic science has gained a higher profile over the last decade thanks to TV shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” Has that changed expectations?
“It comes up in court, certainly with the jury, the public and the press.

I end up doing a lot of public presentations, and the “CSI” issue is there. What I tell them is that what they see is largely representing technology that’s available, but none of us have the ability to solve crimes in 24 hours, and none of us have access, as far as I know, to holograms and some of the fancy stuff.

There’s also what’s described as the “CSI effect.” It refers to perceptions by the public sometimes, and juries in particular, about the level of evidence that needs to be presented in order to get a conviction.”

7 replies
  1. Terry
    Terry says:

    That’s why I take my cop sources out for beer when I need ‘local color.’

    And … totally off topic but I’m happy … I finally got some author copies of my new book after the first box arrived empty.

  2. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Terry – I was merely using the news thing as an exaggerated example. But your comments prove my point. Police work varies all across the country. No two agencies are exactly the same. Yours is no more the standard than any other.

    Of course officers speak differently in private. You’d be shocked to hear exactly who gets called ***hole behind closed doors. I know, I was behind those doors for many years and I’m still a part of the culture. I visit police departments on a regular basis and I talk to police officers from all across the country on a daily basis.

    It was my error to use military time in my newscast example, because you’re right, officers do try to use standard time when addressing the public because many people don’t understand.

    Cops do a lot of other things that aren’t made public.

  3. Terry
    Terry says:

    Listen to newscasts. You rarely ever hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” It’s always, “”We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”

    Yeah, you never hear them say they apprehended the a**hole at 0100 hours (usually they use ‘regular’ time, too). Then again, around here, the PIO isn’t a sworn officer, and the cops DO speak differently with each other compared to the general public.

  4. Elena
    Elena says:

    Another one that makes me grind my teeth is the expression ‘jury of one’s peers’. Doesn’t make sense in either definition.

    British nobility who are known as “peers” are exempt from jury duty.

    And, usage such as ‘academic peers’ would require, for example, finding twelve burglary suspects to serve as a ‘jury of peers’ for a burglary suspect. I imagine in the spirit of peership half would have to be innocent and the other half guilty.

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