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You’ve all heard police officers chattering away on their police radios, on news reports, and while arresting Ray Buck Jenkins, the town drunk. And when they do they use their own special form of communication, the sometimes brain-jarring language called “cop-speak.”  But when they’re conversing with their own kind inside the privacy of police station gyms and patrol cars, their lingo and terminology becomes even more bizarre, such as …

U-Boat: an unmarked police car.

Under-Belt: The belt that holds up an officer’s pants, just like the belts worn by citizens (through the belt loops). The duty belt is attached to the under-belt using belt keepers.

Un-Sub: an unidentified subject. Other terms include, suspect, actor, perpetrator, and a**hole.

Weekend Holiday/Getaway: When arrest warrants are served on Friday afternoons, after courts close, there’s no one around to conduct bond hearings. Therefore, offenders typically must remain in jail until the following Monday when judges and court employees return to work.

It’s an unofficial favorite tactic of some law enforcement officials to purposely serve arrest warrants after the close of the Friday business day to make certain that, instead of partying, the subjects spend the entire weekend behind bars. And, to add insult to injury, doing so on the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend means the person will sit in a cell until the following Tuesday. It’s sometimes a tool that’s used to keep people “on ice” and out of the way while police continue an investigation. Feds love this tactic. *Also known as a Holiday Weekend.

Weeney-wagger: a male subject who exposes his “bits and bobs” in public.

Whale: a black and white unmarked car. Some say they resemble killer whales. To me they look like unfinished patrol cars.

Whiskey-Tango: White trash.

Sorry to offend, Cousin Junior, Jr., but that’s what it means, behind the scenes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot/William Tom Frank: WTF

Wobbler: a case initially charged as a felony but is later reduced to a misdemeanor by a lenient prosecutor. Or, a felony offense that’s reduced as part of a plea agreement.

Working the Bubble: a street cop who’s on temporary desk duty, such as behind the bulletproof glass separating the precinct lobby from the interior of the station.

Yankee 9er: former soldier turned cop who refuses to let go of military-speak, especially so when transmitting over police radio air waves. “Incoming! Incoming! We’re taking rounds from male subject. Sounds like he’s firing a fitty. This is a real soup sandwich, sir! A Charlie Foxtrot!”

Translation – “Somebody’s shooting at me with a bunch of bullets. Yep, I’m in a real jam. Send backup, please.”

  • Fitty: M2 .50 caliber machine gun
  • Soup Sandwich: an assignment that’s gone absolutely wrong.
  • Charlie Foxtrot: a real “cluster ****”

Phonetic Alphabet

Listed below are common uses of the phonetic alphabet, both by members of the military and by police officers. Of course, they’re interchangeable, but officers without  military background may say, well, anything.

(Black text for military and blue for non-military/police).

A – Alfa (or Alpha)

Cops without a military background may use Apple, or Adam

B – Bravo

Cops – Boy

C – Charlie

D – Delta

Cops – David

E – Echo

F – Foxtrot

Cops – Frank

G – Golf

H – Hotel

I – India

Cops – Ida

J – Juliett

Cops – John

K – Kilo

L – Lima

Cops – Lincoln

M – Mike

Cops – Mary

N – November

Cops – Nora

O – Oscar

P – Papa

Cops – Paul

Q – Quebec

R – Romeo

S – Sierra

Cops – Sam

T – Tango

Cops – Tom

U – Uniform

V – Victor

W – Whiskey

Cop – William

X – X-ray

Y – Yankee

Z – Zulu

Yard Bird: fast food chicken. Also, a suspect who hides in the bushes or behind outbuildings, but suddenly makes a run for it as searching officers come close. FYI – Yard birds have been know to enjoy a meal of yard bird. Actually, some yard birds like to listen to The Yardbirds while eating yard bird.

Zebra: a term with a variety of meanings, such as the sergeant who wears three stripes on their sleeves. A cocky and boisterous sergeant may also known as “an ass with stripes.” Or, the term used by street crooks to describe a black and white patrol vehicle. “Here comes the Po-Po, driving a new zebra.”

Zip Gun: a crude, homemade firearm that is sometimes designed to use ground match heads as a propellant and fires projectiles such as broken glass, bits of metal, small nails, etc.


The Yardbirds

I don’t know when it started, but it did and it is puzzling. After all, when did, “I got out of my car” become “I exited my vehicle.” And how is it that, “Are those donuts for Ralph and me?” is sometimes spoken as, “Are those donuts for myself and Ralph?” 

Cop Speak is a unique language that we’ve all heard from time to time, especially on television and film. We also hear officers speak in that unusual manner during courtroom testimony, particularly when the officer who’s doing the testifying is in the early stages of their career.

Typically, the cop-speak eventually fades as time passes and as officers mellow with age and experience. It also tends to disappear as officers move on to other duties, such as those performed by detectives, CSIs, etc. However, until cops somehow manage to bite their tongues and begin speaking in a a language understood by all, well, juries, judges, attorneys, and TV news-watchers will continue to mutter the universally-understood phrase, “WTF did he say?”

Again, I don’t have a clue how or when cops started speaking like robots from outer space, but they do, and here’s a small sample of it along with accompanying translations.

  1. “I exited my vehicle.” Translation – I got out of my car.
  2. “I gave chase and pursued… ” Translation – I ran after …
  3. “Be advised.” Translation – Listen to what I have to say.
  4. “I contacted the driver of the car.” Translation – I walked up to the car and spoke with the driver.
  5. “I detected the odor of …” Translation – I smelled pot and/or liquor, beer, dynamite, funky feet, flatulence (feel free to insert your favorite scent) in his car.
  6. “I surveilled said subject.” Translation – I watched that guy.
  7. “Myself and Officer Ralph Alsotalksfunny ascertained his location.” Translation – Ralph and I found the bad guy’s hideout.

Before moving on, let’s imagine for a moment that the officer who spoke the above phrases is in court testifying before a judge and jury, where he says …

“I surveilled said subject for one hour. I observed said subject stop his vehicle beside an unknown male subject at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. Said subject exchanged what appeared to be U.S. paper currency for a clear plastic bag containing a green leafy substance, at which time I activated my emergency equipment and effected a traffic stop.

I exited my vehicle and contacted the driver, Mr. I Didntdonuffin, a white male. I immediately detected the odor of an intoxicating substance. Based on my academy training in narcotics recognition I believed the source of the odor to be marijuana.

I asked Mr. Didntdonuffin to exit his vehicle. Upon exiting his vehicle, a two-door red convertible with Florida plates, number Ida, Ida, X-ray, Paul, David, 666, he fled the scene on foot. I gave chase and pursued said subject to the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium where I caught and restrained him using pain compliance techniques and two baton strikes to said subject’s right thigh area. I immediately notified dispatch and my supervisor of the situation. My radio traffic at the time went like this – ‘Be advised that I have said subject in custody at this time. Send rescue and a shift supervisor. Myself and said subject need medical attention. Ten-four?'”

Translation…

“I saw Mr. I. Didntdonuffin stop his car at the corner of Syringe Street and BagoDope Boulevard. A man walked up to his window and handed him a plastic bag containing what appeared to be marijuana. In return, Mr. Didntdonuffinthen handed the man some cash. I immediately switched on my blue lights and initiated a traffic stop.

When I walked up to Mr. Didntdonuffin’s car I smelled the odor of marijuana. I asked him to step out of the car so I could conduct an investigation. When he got out he ran away, but I was able to catch him when he tripped and fell in the parking lot of Peggy Jean’s Cut and Curl and Pig’s Feet Emporium. He began punching and kicking me so I used my baton to help gain control and then I applied handcuffs to his wrists. We’d both received a few cuts and bruises during the scuffle so I called for an ambulance crew and for my supervisor.”

Again, I don’t know how the odd cop speak started, or why, but it really should stop. Officers don’t talk like this when they’re engaged in normal conversation, so why switch to the weird stuff when in court or in front of a camera?

Anyway, here are a few additional words and phrases often used by cops.

  • Open Mic – Not to be confused with talent night at the local watering hole. A sometimes horrifyingly embarrassing experience that occurs when the button on an officer’s walk-talkie (“portable”) is accidentally keyed and sticks in the “talk” position, such as when the officer unsuspectingly leans against a seat belt buckle. LOTS of incriminating things are heard during these moments … “Yeah, I heard about the chief and the new dispatcher. Better than that I saw his car parked at the Sleazebucket Inn last night, and hers was parked across the street.”

Cell phone rings. “Hey, you’ve got an open mic.”

A pause.

“Oh, s**t!”

Captain Jim’s Open Mic … it’s a hot one!

Click here to read about Captain Jim, sex in a patrol car, and an open mic.

  • Wants – Outstanding warrants. “Any wants on that guy?”
  • Negative – No. “Negative. The agent said my work was crap and that I should burn the manuscript, toss my computer into a fiery pit, and then drink a gallon of rat poison, should I EVER think of trying to write again.”
  • Crotch Rocket – Lightweight motorcycle featuring the “leaned-over/hunched-over” seating style. These are the bikes often seen on YouTube videos where their riders are performing stunts and outrunning the police at super-high speeds while dangerously weaving in and out of traffic. “You’ve got a crotch rocket heading your way. I picked him up doing 140 when he passed me.”
  • Slick-top – A patrol car without a light bar on top. Typically, supervisor’s car. “There’s a slick-top parked in the alley beside Billy Buck’s Barber Shop and Snack Bar. I think he’s watching to see if we’re working or goofing off.”
  • Light “Em Up – This phrase is used to refer solely to activating emergency lights when initiating a traffic stop. Nowadays it also applies to TASER use. Traffic stop – “Light ’em up as soon as he turns the next corner.”  TASER – “Stop hitting me in the head with that sledgehammer or I’m going light you up.”
  • Keyholder – Someone who’s responsible for a business. “Call the keyholder and ask them to come down to switch off the alarm. They’ll also need to take a look around to see what’s missing.”
  • Mopes – Stupid bad guys. Worthless lowlifes. “There are a couple of mopes hanging out behind the dumpster in the alley between Zippy’s Lunch and Frankie’s Wholesale Weiner Outlet. I think they’re smoking crack while figuring out how they can buy more.”
  • Hinky – Something’s not quite right. “I don’t know, man. I feel really hinky about this one.”
  • Alley Apple – Objects used to throw at police—bricks, rocks, metal, etc. “Watch out, they’re tossing alley apples from the roof of Tom Peeper’s Binoculars, Trench Coat, and Periscope Plaza.”
  • Ditch Doctor – An EMT or other ambulance crew member. “Looks like those arms and that leg belong to the guy over there. The ears, well, I’m not sure. The ditch doctors’ll sort it out while we direct traffic.”

ASCLD – American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

AFIS – Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Palmprint storage and search capabilities are also in place.

ALPS – Automated Latent Print System.

ASCLD/LAB – American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Acid Fuchsin – Reddish protein stain used to enhance bloody friction ridge detail of fingerprints.

Acid Yellow 7Fluorescent dye stain used to help visualize latent prints left in blood on nonporous surfaces.

Acid Yellow-7, Arrowhead Forensics

Acidified Hydrogen Peroxide – Solution used to develop friction ridge detail on cartridge casings by etching the surface of the casing not covered with sebaceous material (oils and/or fats).

Adactylia – Congenital absence of fingers and/or toes.

Adermatoglyphia – Extremely rare congenital absence of fingerprints.

Alanine – The most common amino acid found in proteins. Alanine is often
used to test latent print chemicals for an amino acid reaction.

Aluminum Chloride – A metal salt used to treat ninhydrin developed latent prints.

Amicus Brief – Legal document filed by someone not associated with a case but possibly has knowledge of a subject matter that may be of interest to the courts.  The person submitting the brief is known as amici curiae.

Amici Curiae – Latin for “friend of the court.”

Amido Black – Bluish-black stain used to enhance bloody fingerprint friction ridge detail.

Anhidrosis – Medical condition that reduces or prevents the body’s ability to sweat.

Benzidine – Once described as the best technique for developing bloody latent prints on nonporous items, Benzidine has been linked to cancers and is no
longer used.

Bichromatic ™ – A multi-colored powder used to process an object for fingerprints.

Boiling – Method used to re-hydrate the friction skin/fingerprints/footprints of a deceased person. To process the prints water is boiled and them removed from the heat. The hand of the deceased is submerged in the water for approximately five seconds. The skin is then dried and the fingers and/or palm is printed.

CJIS – Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Calcar Area – The area located at the heel of the foot.

Cheiloscopy – The study of lip prints.

Clandestine – In secret.

Cluster Prints – More than one fingerprint grouped/clumped/positioned in the same spot of a surface.

Comparator – A split image projection screen used to view and compare fingerprints.

Core – Center of a fingerprint pattern.

Dactylography – The study of fingerprints as a method of identification.

Degloving – The accidental/unintentional separation of the skin from the hands or feet. This “skin slippage” often occurs after a body has been submerged in water for a period od time.

Diff-Lift™ – Fingerprint lifting tape made especially for use on textured objects.

Dorsal – The backside of the hand.

Erroneous Exclusion – Disregarding evidence without a sound basis for doing so.

Exemplar – The known prints of a known individual.

FLS – Forensic Light Source. Includes all light sources used in forensic examinations.

FRE – Federal Rules of Evidence.

Fingerprint Society – Yes, it’s a thing. The Fingerprint Society was conceived in 1974 by Martin J. Leadbetter.

Genipin – A reagent used to develop friction ridge detail on porous items. The result is a dark blue image that can be seen without enhanced lighting.

Hallux – A person’s big toe.

Sir William James Herschel – The first European to recognize and utilize the value of fingerprints for identification purposes.

Histology – The study of the microscopic structure of animal or
plant tissues.

Hot Breath TechniqueBreathing on a latent fingerprint either to help visualize the print or to add moisture back into an older latent print. Also known as Huffing.

Hyperhidrosis – Medical condition that increases sweating. Sometimes caused by certain medications, or heredity.

Hypohidrosis – Medical condition that decreases sweating. Sometimes caused by certain medications, or heredity or damage to the skin.

IAFIS – Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The FBI’s first
fully automated AFIS computer database.

Image Reversal – Occurs when the friction ridges in a latent print are reversed. Unintentional transferred prints could occur when using rubber lifters. It’s even happened when items are stacked on top of one another (stacks of evidence bags, for example), causing a print to transfer from one item to the next. The same is true with books. A print from one page could transfer to the next page (after the book is closed for a long time). These prints are mirror images and should be obvious to a trained examiner.

Latent Print – Print that is visible to the naked eye.

Liqui-drox – Fluorescent (yellow) solution used to enhance/develop fingerprint friction ridge detail on the adhesive and non-adhesive sides of dark colored tape.

Loupe – Small magnifying glass used to examine prints.