Law enforcement has its own language, sometimes this can confuse and outsider. Ever wonder what law enforcement jargon or cop slang is referring to? Sometimes it is apparent and easily understood depending on the context. Other times it may be more ambiguous. Law enforcement is a part of the greater criminal justice system and sometimes the terms are used by different agencies and offices. I previously compiled commonly used law enforcement acronyms (F.B.I., D.E.A., S.W.A.T).
I have not included any derogatory or crass terms, there are plenty of them and they can be readily apparent. The following is a list of commonly used terms and jargon you will encounter while working with or working as law enforcement officers. Please leave a comment and I will add any terms I forgot.
Abet - To help, encourage, or support someone in a criminal act (i.e. aiding and abetting).
Accessory – A second-string player who helps in the commission of a crime.
Accomplice - Someone who assists in the commission of a crime and, unlike a mere accessory, is usually present or directly aids in the crime.
Acquittal - A verdict/judgment in a criminal case of not guilty.
Ad Litem - Latin meaning “for the purposes of the legal action only.” A guardian “ad litem” refers to an attorney or person assigned by the court to protect the interest of a minor or person not competent to represent themselves in court.
Admission - An acknowledgement of criminal behavior or involvement by a suspect, that certain facts are true (not to be confused with a confession).
Affidavit - Written/typed document containing probable cause for an arrest in which the law enforcement officer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (i.e. County Clerk), that the statements in the document are true (also known as a booking affidavit or charging affidavit).
Aggravated - A description of a crime that indicates a more serious nature of a crime. Usually indicates the use of a deadly weapon (robbery vs. aggravated robbery) or a property crime that now involves a human victim (burglary vs. aggravated burglary). Sometimes shortened to “agg.” in police jargon (i.e. “agg. robbery”).
Artifact - postmortem injury
Badge Bunny – A woman obsessed with law enforcement officers.
Bail - Money or bond put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged with a crime.
Bail Bond - A bond provided by a bail bondsman acting as agent for the company, to secure the release from jail of an accused defendant pending trial. There is usually a charge of 10 percent of the amount of the bond (e.g. $100 for a $1,000 bond).
Bait Car - A decoy vehicle used to catch car thieves in problem areas. Bait cars are wired with GPS, cameras, and an ignition kill switch for law enforcement. They are usually left parked with the keys still in the ignition and sometimes still running.
Bang Switch - the trigger of a firearm.
Bat Belt - a term used to describe your duty belt loaded with your equipment.
Battery - Intentionally or recklessly making contact with or striking another person against their will or in a rude, insolent, or angry manner.
Bean Bag - Refers to a bean bag gun or a shotgun round which fires a less-lethal munition. Bean bags are generally made of a canvas pouch containing pellets.
Bench Trial -Trial by judge rather than by jury.
Bench Warrant - Warrant issued by a judge for an arrest of a person who failed to appear (FTA) for a court date.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt -Jury instructions given in all criminal trials, in which the jurors are told that they can only find the defendant guilty if they are convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” of the defendants guilt.
Bind Over - When a judge requires a defendant to furnish bail or recognize they must appear for trial on charges brought.
Blacked Out - refers to a police vehicle approaching a call, patrolling or sitting with no lights on. Refers to activities of surveillance or approaching calls without lights so you to not announce your arrival to people on scene or in the area of a call. Some agencies equip their patrol vehicles with “black-out switches” that deactivate the brake lights to further the black out effect.
BOLO – Be On the Look Out
Bone Run - A call where a citizen reports finding a bone. Most tend to be an animal bone.
Booking - The process of a law enforcement officer turning an arrested person over to a municipal or county jail. This involves the transfer of the prisoner, their personal property, taking photos, fingerprints, and recording identifying information about a criminal suspect.
Box – or being put on “the box”, refers to the polygraph or lie detector.
Bracelets – Handcuffs
Break Leather – Pulling your gun out your duty firearm.
Burglary - Breaking and entering into a structure for the purpose of committing a crime. No force is needed if the entry is unauthorized. Burglary includes assaults, felonies, and sex crimes, not just theft. Burglary is sometimes confused with robbery and vice versa.
Bus - Ambulance
Bus Driver Hat - name for the dress service caps worn my many law enforcement agencies that resembles that of a bus driver.
Burn Up - To accidentally or stupidly alert the subjects of an investigation there is a law enforcement presence or surveillance (i.e. burn up a location or burn up an informant).
California Role – When a driver slows down almost, but never stopping at a stop sign.
Capital Crime - A crime that is punishable by the death penalty.
Cherries & Berries - The red and blue emergency lights on top of a police car.
Chicken Head – refers to those subjects who walk around nervously, to and fro with their heads bobbing and eyes looking around nervously resembling a chicken (crack heads, tweakers, prostitutes, those trying to procure drugs).
Clan Lab – Short for clandestine laboratory or covert laboratory set up to manufacture drugs, primarily methamphetamine.
Collar – an arrest
Corroborating - Any evidence or statement that strengthens or supports other evidence, statements or proof.
Coyote - A person who smuggles undocumented aliens across the U.S. – Mexico border for a fee.
Crank - methamphetamine
Cut - 1) “the cut” is an autopsy, 2) substance mixed with drugs to make more weight by diluting the drug.
Deposition - An official statement taken in writing by an opposing attorney during civil litigation (being deposed).
Dick - Detective
Discovery - Pre-trial process where law enforcement and a prosecuting attorney reveal all case file information and/or documents to the criminal defense attorney.
Duty to Warn - Obligation by law enforcement officers to warn people of danger (i.e. threats made on their life).
Evidence - Proof of facts presented in court.
Exigent Circumstances - occurs when the a law enforcement officer has probable cause and no sufficient time to secure a warrant.
Exonerate - Eliminating a charge, responsibility or duty.
False Arrest - Arrest without sufficient evidence or cause.
False Confession - A confession given by someone who did not commit the crime.
False Impersonation - Claiming to be someone else.
False Pretenses - A person falsely representing himself to gain money, services or items. Felony - A serious crime for which the punishment is prison for more than a year or death.
Felony Forest - a multiple or excessive amount of tree air fresheners used to mask the smell of drugs.
Felony Wireless – prepaid phones preferred by drug dealers and other felons.
Fence – A person who buys knowingly stolen merchandise to turn around and sell.
Finding - Formal conclusion by a judge or regulatory agency
Flip - 1) To have someone start working as a confidential informant after an arrest; 2) One suspect gives up another suspect in the same crime.
Flying Colors - Displaying gang colors in your clothing, vehicle, or with a bandanna (flag).
Forcible Felony - Treason and any felony involving the use or threat of physical force or violence against a person.
Frame-up - An attempt to point a crime to or setting up another person as the responsible party.
Fraud - Intentionally deceiving another person to deprive them of property or to injure that person in some way.
Frequent Flyer - A person who gets arrested a lot.
Fur Missile - a police K-9 chasing a suspect or on a take-down.
Gas – the can of chemical agent worn on your duty belt (OS, OC).
Good For – Means a subject is “good for” other, usually similar crimes (He is good for a lot of the burglaries in this area).
Grand Jury - a jury in each county or federal court district which serves for a term of a year. A Grand Jury has two responsibilities 1) to hear evidence of criminal accusations in possible felonies (major crimes) presented by the District Attorney and decide whether the accused should be indicted and tried for a crime. 2) to hear evidence of potential public wrong-doing by city and county officials, including acts which may not be crimes but are imprudent, ineffective or inefficient, and make recommendations to the county and cities involved.
Guardian Ad Litem (Latin) - ”Guardian at law.” A guardian/lawyer appointed to represent an infant, child or someone mentally incapable.
Habeas Corpus (Latin) - ”You have the body.” A writ used to bring a person before the court to determine whether he/she is being detained unlawfully.
Habeas Grabus - making an arrest.
Hang Paper - 1) Issue a citation; 2) Internal Affairs starting an investigation on a department employee.
Hats and Bats - riot helmet and batons
Hearsay - Statements by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else.
Hinky - to “act hinky”, is to act suspiciously.
Hit - a match on a computer check, usually referring to a want or warrant on a person, vehicle, stolen item(s), and property missing from a crime.
Homicide - the killing of a human being due to the act or omission of another. Included among homicides are murder and manslaughter. Not all homicides are a crime, particularly when there is a lack of criminal intent. Non-criminal homicides include killing in self-defense, a hunting accident or automobile collision without a violation of law like reckless driving, or a government execution.
Honey Hole - a location where it is easy to observe a large amount of traffic or criminal violations leading to a large number of tickets or arrests.
Hook - a tow truck
Hooks - handcuffs
Hot - Stolen or wanted property, vehicles, or license plates.
Hot Sheet - Stolen or wanted automobile listing generally distributed or disseminated to patrol divisions.
House Mouse - a law enforcement officer who rarely leaves the police station.
Hung Jury - Jury that is/was unable to reach a verdict.
Ice – crystal methamphetamine (see acronyms for ICE)
Immunity - Grant by the court assuring someone won’t face prosecution in return for providing criminal evidence.
Impairment - A person’s faculties are diminished so that his/her ability to sea, hear, talk, walk, or judge distances falls below normal (i.e. an impaired driver)
Inadmissible - Under the rules of evidence, something that cannot be admitted into evidence.
Indictment - charge of a felony voted by a Grand Jury based upon a proposed charge, witnesses’ testimony and other evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Note: to bring an indictment the Grand Jury will not find guilt, but only the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused person did it and that he/she should be tried.
Intimate Violence - also known as “domestic violence”. is violence between people that are living together, who may or may not be related or are involved in romantic relationship. See also domestic violence.
Intimidation - Threatening another person in order to influence his behavior. The threat may include physical harm, restraint, confinement or accusations of crime (even if true).
Invoked - From invoking your Miranda Rights, not speaking to the police.
Ivory Tower - Internal Affairs or Command Staff
Jammed Up – Discipline or an investigation coming from your supervision.
Jurisdiction - Refers to the geographic area/location where a law enforcement officer is sworn and/or can enforce the law.
Juvie - refers to a juvenile, juvenile detention facility, or the juvenile courts.
Keistered / Keistering – Referring to someone who has drugs or other contraband in their anus.
Keyholder – A person generally employed by or owner of a property who responds to or is requested to respond to an alarm, break-in or other issue.
Kilo - A metric measurement equal to 2.2 lbs. referring to larger packaging of generally cocaine or methamphetamine.
Knock & Talk - go talk to someone at their residence and/or request a search without a search warrant.
Knock & Lock - Serve a search warrant / arrest warrant at a subjects residence. Knock on his/her door then lock them up.
Land Shark – 1) a large/vicious dog(s) at a subjects residence 2) a hiding police unit looking for traffic violations, usually looking for speeders.
Larceny - Obtaining property through deceit.
Lawyered Up - A suspect declines to talk and requests their attorney.
Light ‘em up – Turning on your emergency lights to stop a vehicle.
Loc - (pronounced low-ck) – location
Malicious Prosecution - Prosecution without probable cause, instituted with inten injure the defendant.
Mandamus - A court ordered writ ordering a public official to perform an specific act. Mandatory Sentence - Criminal sentence, established by a legislature, setting up the minimum length of a prison sentence for specified crimes.
Manslaughter - Unlawful, but unintentional, killing another person.
Mens Rea - Latin for “guilty mind,” or criminal intent in committing an act (see criminal intent).
Milking It – The action of an Officer purposely taking too long on a call to avoid a different, usually holding and not desirable, call. Somtime
Milkman - An officer who purposely takes to long on a call to avoid another holding, less desirable call. Officers who take too long on calls at the end of a shift to get overtime (see “milking it”).
Mirandize - To read someone their Miranda Rights.
Mirror Meeting - Two patrol vehicles sitting driver door to driver door to exchange information.
Modus Operandi - (M.O.) Latin, a criminal investigation term for “way of operating,” and sometimes referred to as “Method of Operation. Refers to a person(s) showing a pattern of repeating the same criminal acts using the same method.
Molly - Street term for ecstasy / MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine)
Motion - formal request made to a judge for an order or judgment. Motions are made for multiple purposes.
Murder - Killing of a human being with intent, malice, prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way, and with no legal excuse or authority.
Narco – Narcotics Officer / Narcotics Detective
New Boot – Recruit Officer / Rookie Officer
Nolle Prosequi - Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute.” This is a declaration made to a judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil case) either prior to or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped.
Nolo Contendere - Latin for “I will not contest” the charges. This plea made by a defendant to a criminal charge, allowing the judge to then find him/her guilty, often called a “plea of no contest.”
Obama Phone – Cheap cell phones given to people for free.
Occupied 10851 – A stolen vehicle with a suspect inside. California Vehicle Code Section 10851 is an auto theft.
Off-paper - Parole and underlying sentence have expired/been completed.
On-paper - Currently on parole.
Open Mic - A mobile or portable radio with the transmit button accidentally depressed.
Oral Board - Police recruits will be required to go through an oral board interview generally comprised of 3-5 members of the department or community. Scoring is based on several criteria. The oral board is also used for promotional processes and speciality positions within law enforcement agencies (i.e. corporal, detective, sergeant).
Overheads - The emergency light bar on a marked police cruiser
Own Recognizance (OR) - basis for a judge allowing a person accused of a crime to be free while awaiting trial, without posting bail, on the defendant’s own promise to appear and his/her reputation.
Oxy - Street term for Oxycodone (opiate) / Oxycontin (brand name of opiate).
Paper – Being on Parole (see on-paper, off-paper)
Paper Hanger – A particular kind of criminal that specializes in forgery or passing bad checks / money orders.
Parole - the release of a prisoner temporarily (for a special purpose) or permanently before the completion of a sentence, on the promise of good behavior. Often comes with rules and stipulations (i.e. curfew, no drug/alcohol use, no contact with gang members, report all contact with law enforcement). See also “on paper”.
PC - “probable cause”, see probable cause.
Ped Stop - A pedestrian stop, for a pedestrian violation or for investigative means.
Plea - Defendant’s answer to the charges against him/her – guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere.
Plea Bargain - The process in which the defendant and prosecution negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome for the case.
Poaching - Looking for crimes, suspects, car stops or other police actions out of your assigned response area. Usually done when your response area is slow. Also known as beat or zone poaching.
Post - or “the post” is an autopsy (from postmortem).
Prelim - Preliminary hearing.
Premeditation - To plan a criminal act in advance (shows intent).
Prime Facie - On the face of it; a case with sufficient evidence to allow it to continue in the judicial process.
Principle - Primary suspect involved in a crime or larger conspiracy
Pro Se - person who represents himself/herself in court.
Probable Cause - or PC, “a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true” (Handler, J. G. (1994). Ballentine’s Law Dictionary (Legal Assistant ed.). Albany: Delmar. p. 431). The United State Supreme Court (SCOTUS) defines probable cause as “where the facts and circumstances within the officers’ knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed” (Brinegar v. United States).
Probation - the release of an offender from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.
Quid Pro Quo - Latin for ”something for something”; giving something of value in return for something of value.
Rabbit – to run from a law enforcement officer.
Ragweed – Marijuana (poor quality)
Rape - Forced sexual relations without the other person’s consent.
Read Them - referring to Miranda, as in did your read them or go read them and do an interview or interrogation.
Reception Committee - This is the group of deputies who waits to receive a combative prisoner.
Reg - Regulation.
Ride Along - A person who shadows a police officer with prior approval. The person generally observes the police do their job such as citizens, criminal justice majors, or those interested in a law enforcement career.
Ride The Lightning - Having a Taser ® used on you.
Robbery - Taking another person’s property with violent force, usually with the use of guns, knives, or other arms.
Rolling Stop - 1) a car that takes a long time to stop after emergency equipment is activated. Can be an indicator of suspicious and/or criminal activity. 2) also a California stop.
Run Code - Respond with lights and sirens.
Run Hot - Respond with lights and sirens.
Sam Browne – A duty belt, usually leather, which is supported by a narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder.
Sandbagging – An Officer who takes too much time on a simple call on purpose to avoid other holding calls (negative connotation).
Scenario Question – a type of question used in a police oral board which is a verbal picture of events, a situation, involves a circumstance that requires a police candidate or promotional candidate to respond. Answers will require situation analysis, long-term planning, and ethical consideration.
Scripts - Prescription drugs used in relation to the illicit use of or selling of.
Search Warrant - a written order from a judge which permitting law enforcement officers to search a specific place (i.e. residence, business, vehicle, cell phone, etc.) and identifies the person(s) and articles intended to be seized (drugs, weapons, paraphernalia, documents, computers, etc.). Search Warrants are issued after a sworn written statement of a law enforcement officer.
Self-Incrimination - A Constitutional right (5th Amendment) allowing a person to refuse to give testimony that could incriminate themselves or which could subject them to criminal prosecution.
Shank – (AKA – Shiv) A prison made knife which can be made out of anything and are sharpened to a point.
Sheepdog - a metaphor used by law enforcement officers to describe their role as protectors of the community (i.e. sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs), taken from the books of Lt. Col D. Grossman.
Six Pack - A photo array, or mug lineup, shown to victims and witnesses during a criminal investigation. Each array has six numbered photos, one of which is the suspect of a crime.
Slick Top - A marked patrol vehicle without a light bar on the roof. Generally used by supervisors and traffic units.
Slobs - Derogatory term for a Blood gang member.
Smash and Grab - a self describing theft that involves quickly breaking or breaking into something to steal an item(s) then quickly leaving.
Smokey - from Smokey the Bear referring to the hats worn by many law enforcement agencies whose uniform hat has a resemblance to Smokey’s ranger hat.
Stick - Baton
Stop and Rob - Convenience store. Particularly those prone to more robberies.
Strap - Gun, particularly one that is carried concealed.
Subpoena - court order for a witness to appear at a particular time and place to testify Suppress - “suppression of evidence,” a determination by a Judge to not allow evidence to be admitted during a criminal trial because it was illegally obtained or was discovered because of an illegal search.
Surveillance - Visual (uniformed or undercover) or electronic monitoring of a person or place.
Suspect - A person believed to have committed a crime on a particular case.
Swivel Head - A suspect or suspicious person action where they are continually looking around to see if they’re being watched or whether they will be stopped by law enforcement in their vicinity.
T-Bone – a broad side traffic accident (T-boned).
Tagger – an individual who writes graffiti.
Take the Fifth - the refusal to testify on the ground that the testimony might incriminate the witness in a crime. From the 5th Amendment to the Constitution which states: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The phrase became famous Kefauver Senate committee hearings in 1951 on organized crime, when crime bosses “took the Fifth.”
Teflon ® - Refers to a “teflon officer” who supervisors are unable to hang paper on or get into trouble.
Ten-Seven – Ten code reference (10-7) that says your are out of service, home or on a lunch break.
Three-Striper - Refers to the three chevrons (stripes worn by law enforcement Sergeants.
Toss - to search a vehicle, residence or location
Triple Nickel - California Highway Patrol (CHP) Form 555 is a traffic accident report used by law enforcement agencies in California.
Tweaker – a methamphetamine user, generally one who is looking for a fix.
Twenty – Ten code reference (10-20). ”What is your twenty?”, means someone wants to know what your location is.
Two-Striper - Refers to the two chevrons (stripes) worn by law enforcement Corporals, F.T.O.’s and/or Master Police Officers
Universal Key – Kicking in or using a ram to force open a door.
UNSUB - Unknown subject/suspect
Vic – Victim of a crime
VIN - Vehicle Identification Number
Voir Dire - French “to see to speak”; questioning of prospective jurors by a judge/attorneys in court.
Waiver – a waiver to search a residence, vehicle, or other place to recover evidence (can be verbal or written).
Walked On – Refers to another unit covering your radio broadcast while keying up their radio at the same time.
Want – refers to a wanted person or a suspect of a crime in a situation where a warrant has yet not been issued (i.e. wanted for questioning).
Warrant - an order of a court directing law enforcement to arrest and bring a person before the judge (usually for a crime).
Writ - written order from a judge requiring specific action by the person/entity to whom the writ is directed. If I missed something leave me a comment or send me an email, I will happily add it. While preparing for or working through a law enforcement career you will hear many of these terms. Some will change from agency to agency or even region to region. Regardless law enforcement officers will always speak their own language. Be safe out there.
X – Ringed - Shot(s) in the middle of a target or shot(s) to a suspect’s chest
Yeti Light - Alley lights.
Zulu - Zulu time is another name for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)