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Perpetrator v. percolator

Police jargon, or slang, is truly a language of its own. It’s a collection of words that can and do vary greatly from one area of the country to another. Even neighboring counties and cities sometime have their own special slang terms that are unique.

If a writer’s goal is realism, I strongly urge the storyteller to do a little homework to avoid dialogue and terminology that doesn’t ring true, especially within a specific location or agency. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the needed information.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Athough, my focus was on the use of three specific terms/words that I often see used in works of fiction—Perp, Vic, and Juvie. I wanted to see if cops truly used those slang terms. I already knew the answer but, as always, it’s best to do our homework if we’re aiming for facts (hint).

Here’s what I learned.

1) Perp – Not many police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, actor, or ***hole. Listen to police scanners and you’ll rarely, if ever, hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” Typically, it’s, “We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”

Perp is generally a specific, regional term. I’ve heard it used more in the New York and Boston areas more than any other location. Still, it’s not used by all officers.

FYI – the term perpetrator is NOT to be confused with the closely-sounding “percolator.” Confusing the two could prove to be quite embarrassing.

Yes, I once saw the perpetrator/percolator faux pas in a manuscript. Imagine reading a book written by your favorite author and you see this on page 47 – “10-4, Captain, the percolator who robbed the hot dog stand was short and stocky, and a witness said he had a tattoo on his forehead that she believed spelled the words ‘Ken’ and ‘More.’  Could be his name—Ken More.”

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By the way, you’ll probably not hear the other, more colorful term “a**hole” used on the police radio. It and other profanity are not supposed to be spoken on the air, but when the adrenaline is high and the bullets are flying, well, you just might hear anything.

“The a**hole just fired two rounds at me! Send &*%@ing backup. NOW!!”

2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic, if any, 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 as a Vic, if they’re driving a Ford Crown Victoria.

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To hear a fictional officer misuse the term can be a bit humorous. And, when a reader is thinking one thing but reading another, like – “I really put the Vic to the test. Put my foot in ‘er and drove ‘er hard, first up the mountain and then back down. Wide open all the way. Didn’t let up for a minute. I finally backed off because she started to spit and sputter. Overall, it was a good ride and I’d like to try it again.”

It’s probably a great idea to provide a lead-in so readers will know your hero is referring to a car, not the unfortunate murder victim from chapter three. Ouch!

What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one—victim! Or … dead guy, DB (dead body), maggot snack, etc.

3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or as a generic word for kids.

Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term.

Most simply say “juvenile” to describe those innocent little darlins’ who are always on their best behavior.

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Law enforcement has a language all its own, and without a translator citizens sometimes feel left out of the conversation. Here are a few simple terms worth remembering and maybe inserting into a tale or two.

Affidavit – a written statement of facts given under oath.

Bond/Bail – money or other security posted with the court to guarantee an appearance.

  • Bail is a monetary sum paid by the defendant that allows their release from jail. If the subject fails to appear in court the sum paid is forfeited to the court.
  • Bond is similar to securing a loan, where a person offers collateral for the amount borrowed. For example, a bail bonds-person pays the offender’s bail on their behalf in exchange for a fee, typically 10-15% of the total bail amount. In doing so, the bond company guarantees the subject will appear on their scheduled day for trial/hearing. Should the offender not appear, the bail/bond company must forfeit the entire amount of the money they paid the court on behalf of their client. This is why bail bonds-people hunt down, or hire bounty hunters to locate the missing offenders—to avoid paying those often large sums of money.
  • Property bonds are allowed in some cases. This is where a piece of property of value equal to or exceeding the bail amount is secured as collateral for the release of the offender. Should the offender not appear as promised, the property is forfeited to the court or the bond company who posted the bail. The equity of the property must be greater than the amount owed.
  • Signature bonds are sometimes used for low risk offenders. They’re allowed to sign a form promising to appear on the date required. If they fail to do so they’re required to pay the full bail fee in addition to other court costs and restitution.

* On August 28, 2018, California governor Jerry Brown signed into legislature a law eliminating cash bail as a means to bring the bail system into a more equal state for the rich and the poor. Oftentimes, people of lesser means sit in jail for months simply because they cannot afford to pay the amount of bail set for their offense. Whereas, wealthy people have no trouble paying their bail amounts and are set free.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “A person whose risk to public safety and risk of failure to appear is determined to be “low” would be released with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions possible. ‘Medium-risk’ individuals could be released or held depending on local standards. ‘High-risk’ individuals would remain in custody until their arraignment, as would anyone who has committed certain sex crimes or violent felonies, is arrested for driving under the influence for the third time in less than 10 years, is already under supervision by the courts or has violated any conditions of pretrial release in the previous five years.”

Read the full story by click the article title below.

Jerry Brown signs bill eliminating money bail in California

Badge Bunny – woman obsessed with cops (I mean really obsessed … well, you get the idea). Cop groupies.

Basket Weave – design that’s stamped into a leather gun belt.

Break Leather – drawing a firearm/weapon from its holster.

“Drawing” a service weapon.

CI – confidential informant.

City – referring to officers who work for city police departments. “The city will handle that case.” The same is so for county and state.

Civil case – a private lawsuit, not one brought by the state.

Complaint – a statement given under oath where someone accuses another person of a crime. Officers may also refer to a call as a complaint. “Man, I caught two loud music complaints in one hour last night.”

Complainant – person who accuses another. Or, someone who called the police. “Respond to 666 Mockingbird Lane. The complainant’s name is Ralph Munster, the cousin to that other nut, the one who lives down the street at 1313.”

Cook – make crack cocaine or methamphetamine.

Cooker – person who makes crack cocaine or methamphetamine.

Driving Miss Daisy – having an older, supervisory officer riding along on patrol. “Just my luck, I’m stuck with driving Miss Daisy tonight.”

Duracell Shampoo – using a metal flashlight to deliver a polite “love tap” to a combative suspect’s head. No longer a permitted technique/tactic, for obvious reasons.

Fish Eye – a person is said to “fish eye” when he knows an officer is watching him, so he pretends not to notice. However, he’s quite obviously watching the officer out of the extreme corner of his eye while trying to keep his head aimed straight ahead.

“Watch Carl Crook. He’s giving you the fish eye. I’ll bet he rabbits.”

Flashlight Therapy – using a metal flashlight to deliver a polite “love tap” to a combative suspect’s head. Not permitted as a tactic in most agencies, but when a life is in danger, well, anything goes.

Foot Bail – to run from the police.

Happy Feet – suspect is a runner, or is about to flee. “Watch that guy. Looks like he’s got happy feet.”

Hit – outstanding warrant, or stolen. “We got a hit on that car.”

Hook ’em Up – to handcuff a prrisoner.

Hot – stolen.

Information – Paperwork (document) filed by a prosecutor that accuses someone of a crime.

John Wayne – excessive use of force. “He went all ‘John Wayne’ on that guy.”

Knock and announce – requirement that officers knock on the door and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. “Police. Search warrant!”

Lead Poisoning – multiple gunshot wounds. “Look at all the bullet holes. He must’ve died of lead poisoning.”

Light ‘Em Up – initiate a traffic stop by turning on blue lights. Also used as an unofficial command to begin firing at a suspect(s).

OIC – officer in charge.

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins, Chief Deputy of the Cornsqueezin’ County Sheriff’s Office.

PC – probable cause. “Do you have enough PC to get a warrant?”

Plastic – credit card.

Priors – previous arrests.

Rabbit – run from the police.

Railroad Tracks – Slang term for the two bars on each collar denoting the rank of captain.

Captain Ghoul, graveyard shift commander and supervisor of K-9 units

Ride the chair – die by electrocution.

I witnessed the execution of the notorious serial killer Timothy Spencer, nicknamed The Southside Strangler. Spencer’s case was the basis of Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem.

The Night I Watched a Serial Killer Die

Ride the needle – Die by lethal injection.

Roll up – arrest someone.

Stripes – a sergeant’s patch or insignia.

T-Bone – broadsided in an crash.

Verbal – a warning. “I gave him a verbal, but next time his butt’s going to jail.”

Visual – able to see something or someone. “Have you got a visual?”

UC – undercover officer.

Me, during my time working undercover narcotics.

Walk – to get off a charge. Released without a record. “Man, rich people walk all the time. It’s not fair!”

Write – issue a summons.

“Did you write him?”

“Yep. 87 in a 55.”

VIN – Vehicle Identification number. “Run the VIN on that car to see if you get a hit.”


“Write “Believable Make-Believe.”