Police Vocabulary: What Cops are Hiding From You

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process12 min
Created: Feb 23, 2023Last updated: Jan 24, 2024
Police Vocabulary

Police vocabulary is definitely not the first thing every English learner will pay attention to at the beginning of their language learning journey. However, those A-students who hanker after new words to achieve English proficiency will take time to memorize terms and slang from the police terminology list, especially if they are keen on detective films and tv shows. Plus, knowing some police vocabulary can save your life or help to report a crime at the end of the day. So, we strongly advise you to get deeper into the law enforcement vocabulary for your own good.  

Police Terminology List: Types Of Crimes And Criminals

English is full of law enforcement terms such as types of crimes and criminals. Most learners are familiar with basic terminology but aren't able to specify a theft or properly define a person who committed the crime. Therefore, calling them criminals doesn't correlate with advanced English skills. So, suppose you want to watch TV shows about police and investigations catching every nuance of the police terms and definitions related to types of crimes and criminals. In that case, you will definitely benefit from the police terminology list below. 

Abduction

Definition: taking someone away against their will by force

Example: Two guys were charged with the abduction of a woman in Brazil. 

Arson

Сriminal: Arsonist

Definition: intentionally setting fire to damage or destroy a property such as a car or building

Example: Jeremy committed arson because he needed insurance money to cover his debt. 

Assassination

Сriminal: Assassin

Definition: killing someone important or popular

Example: A couple of days ago, someone broke into the house of a famous actor and tried to hurt him. Police called it an assassination attempt.

Assault

Сriminal: Assailant

Definition: a physical or verbal attack with the intention of harming someone

Example: Carry was fired for trying to assault the company's recruiter. 

Bigamy

Сriminal: Bigamist

Definition: being married to more than one person at a time in countries where it is illegal

Example: After five years together and two kids, it turned out Tom was a bigamist. 

Blackmail

Сriminal: Blackmailer

Definition: demanding money or another benefit, usually by sending letters, emails, messages, or giving calls from someone by threatening to expose their secret

Example: Don't even try to blackmail me, you have no idea who you are dealing with. 

Bombing

Сriminal: Bomber

Definition: an attack on the area or a group of people using explosives

Example: A woman survived after bombing an occupied city.  

Bribery

Сriminal: Briber

Definition: giving money or other goods to make someone influential, usually from the government, act in your interests

Example: Is giving doctors money for taking extra care of you bribery?

Burglary

Сriminal: Burglar

Definition: breaking into the property with the intention of stealing something

Example: That fancy house from the Home Alone movie was a cherry on the top for two burglars. 

Child abuse

Сriminal: Child abuser

Definition: violent actions against a child

Example: Child abusers should be sentenced for life. 

Corruption

Сriminal: Corruptor 

Definition: when someone in a position of power acts in their interests to take money or other goods to benefit someone else

Example: The corruption level has gone higher for the past few decades. 

Cybercrime

Сriminal: Cybercriminal/hacker

Definition: conducting a crime over the Internet, social media platforms, or computer systems 

Example: Cybercrime requires some good technical skills. 

Domestic violence 

Сriminal: Abuser

Definition: acting violently or aggressively emotionally or physically within the home against your partner or other family members

Example: There is no acquire for domestic violence, stop victim blaming!

Drunk driving

Сriminal: Drunk driver

Definition: driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Example: Jeremy got arrested for drunk driving after Chloe's birthday party. 

Embezzlement

Сriminal: Embezzler

Definition: stealing the money that someone is responsible for, usually from organizations, businesses, or people a person works for

Example: Never give an accountant full access to your bank accounts. Some people can't resist temptation and become embezzlers. 

Espionage

Сriminal: Spy

Definition: secretly obtaining and reporting some information, especially military, political, or business, to be used in someone's interests

Example: A big American company accused a local Texas agency of espionage. 

Forgery

Сriminal: Forger

Definition: copying someone's signature or stamp, creating a fake document, banknote, or a replica of a valuable object to pass it off as an original

Example: I won't sign this document instead of you, it's a forgery. 

Fraud

Сriminal: Fraud

Definition: obtaining someone's money in an unfair and illegal way

Example: I advise you not to trust Toby because he is a real fraud. 

Genocide

Definition: killing a lot of people because they belong to a particular nation or ethnic group

Example: Holocaust is a proven genocide of the Jews. 

Hijacking

Сriminal: Hijacker

Definition: taking control over the aircraft or vehicle by force to demand something or make a statement 

Example: The terrorists hijacked the airplane before causing it into the building. 

Hit and run

Definition: a road accident when a driver hits someone, doesn't stop, and drives away without helping a victim and calling for emergency services

Example: There is a traffic jam because of the hit and run earlier this morning. 

Hooliganism

Сriminal: Hooligan

Definition: a disruptive and violent behavior of young people on streets

Example: Every time some football team loses a match, fans turn into hooligans. 

Kidnapping 

Сriminal: Kidnapper

Definition: carrying a child or an adult by force to demand money for their return

Example: The kidnapper was wearing a blue denim jacket, black pants, and a big yellow hat. 

Looting

Сriminal: Looter

Definition: stealing goods during a war or riot

Example:

Manslaughter

Definition: killing someone unintentionally 

Example: He doesn't admit the murder but agrees it was manslaughter. 

Mugging

Сriminal: Mugger

Definition: a street robbery when the criminal attack the victim and threatens to hurt them if they don't give what they want (money, jewelry, gadgets, etc.)

Example: People say that mugging in New York happens all the time. 

Murder

Сriminal: Murderer

Definition: killing someone intentionally 

Example: The man was charged with murder. 

Perjury

Definition: lying in court after giving the oath to tell only the truth

Example: The defender encouraged the witness to commit perjury to save his client.  

Pickpocketing

Сriminal: Pickpocket

Definition: stealing goods from someone's pocket unnoticeably 

Example: You should be very cautious in grounded places in Rome because of pickpocketing. 

Pilfering

Definition: stealing goods of a small value for fun or adrenalin

Example: The maid was caught pilfering valuable things from the house she has been working in for the past four years. 

Rape 

Сriminal: Rapist

Definition: sexual assault of any form against a person's will

Example: Many women won't go to the police to file about the rape just because they feel guilty.  

Riot

Сriminal: Rioter

Definition: causing public disturbances with violent and noisy actions

Example: The Prisoners seriously hurt a guardian during the last riot. 

Robbery

Сriminal: Robber

Definition: stealing a lot of money from a bank, store, or another property using force, threats, and weapons

Example: After John successfully prevented a bank robbery, he decided to become a rookie cop in his 50s. 

Shoplifting

Сriminal: Shoplifter

Definition: stealing something small from a store

Example: A salesperson accused a little girl of shoplifting because she looked suspicious. 

Smuggling 

Сriminal: Smuggler

Definition: transporting things through the border illegally

Example: Three housewives barely made it to smuggle fake cash through the American-Canadian border. 

Speeding

Definition: driving over the speed limit

Example: She got a ticket for speeding, but it turned out that she wasn't driving the car that day. 

Stalking

Criminal: Stalker

Definition: intentionally watching and following someone for some time, bothering them with unsolicited attention 

Example: The main character from the Netflix show You definitely has a passion for stalking. 

Terrorism

Сriminal: Terrorist

Definition: threats to do something harmful or dangerous acts against a significant number of civilians to influence the government

Example: The world should unite against terrorism. 

Theft

Сriminal: Thief

Definition: a general term for stealing

Example: Two teenagers have admitted theft while their peers deny all the accusations. 

Trafficking

Definition: being and selling goods or people illegally 

Example: Young single women are typical victims of human trafficking. 

Trespassing

Сriminal: Trespasser

Definition: stepping on someone's land or inside the property without permission from the owners

Example: In Texas, people have the right to use force to terminate trespassing on their private property. 

Vandalism 

Сriminal: Vandal

Definition: intentional destruction and damaging people's property

Example: Two students were arrested for vandalism after destroying the university garden. 

Voyeurism

Сriminal: Voyeur

Definition: secretly watching someone naked or having sex

Example: The woman called 911 after detecting her neighbor practicing voyeurism. 

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Police Vocabulary: Slang, Jargon, And Acronyms

It might seem surreal, but police officers do use official codes and acronyms as well as unofficial slang and jargon for better internal communication. Film writers didn't think all of those police phrases up just for fun. Instead, they serve to pass information clearer and mistake-free. Most of the police vocabulary is difficult to follow because, except for the police, nobody uses it. However, knowing police terminology can help you orientate in critical situations and understand movies about cops much better. Let's learn some police slang, jargon, and acronyms that officers tap into to remain their conversations discreet. 

Walkie talkie

This is a snag term for a portable radio police use to send and receive information. It was named like so because of the journalist reporting on the new invention during the war. 

Berries and Cherries

That is how police call the blue and red lights on patrol cars. Because of the light's colors and rounded shape, it reminds them of those fruits

Hookem and Bookem

This one decodes as handcuffing and booking someone into the system. Simply put, that's a police term for getting someone from the streets and putting them behind bars. 

10-4

To communicate effectively but briefly, police officers use a unique digital code for passing information through their radio. The most well-known among civilians is the ten-codes system. Basically, the ten plus another number has a particular meaning. For instance, 10-4 stands for «ok» or «message received.»

Taking a code 7

Some police codes don't refer to crimes, emergencies, or direct work situations. Cops also have codes to let others know about their personal needs, such as going to the bathroom or taking a lunch break. For example, taking code 7 refers to the last one. 

Deuce

This is how police officers call a drunk driver to keep it short. It comes from California, where the government added to Vehicle Code section 23102 about the drunk driving violation, known as a "deuce.»

A house mouse

Police officers are brave and can cope with danger better than others. However, it doesn't mean everyone loves to go to the streets to deal with criminals daily. Some of them stay at the police station and work with papers. For such colleagues, cops coined the term "house mouse." It means the police officer who doesn't go out on patrol.

FIDO

This police acronym decodes as "Forget It, Drive On.» Cops use it when they decide something is not worth their attention or assistance, and there is no need to stop the car. 

To Mirandize

This verb comes from the term Miranda Rights, which stands for the Constitutional rights that a person has while being under arrest. The officer must read an arrestee their right to Mirandize them. 

A Sam Browne

That's another way of naming an officer's belt. Cops call it that in honor of its inventor General Sam Browne. After losing his left arm, which made it difficult for him to draw his sword, the man came up with the idea of wearing a second belt over his right shoulder. 

The bus

If cops call for the bus, they mean an ambulance. The slang term comes from New York City. Decades ago, the first batch of ambulances was bought from the same vendor that sold NYC their school buses. So, police officers started to refer to them as buses. If a cop wants to emphasize that they need an ambulance fast, they will say, "put a rush on the bus."

P.O.V. 

It decodes as a Personally Owned Vehicle, the opposite of a patrol car. 

Ghetto bird 

That is an idiom that means a police helicopter. It got its name because of the 1993 song "Ghetto Bird" by Ice Cube. In lyrics, the artist refers to a helicopter as a bird that flies over the ghetto in search of a crime.

Stolo 

The term comes from rap music and means a stolen vehicle. 

How To Learn Police Terminology With Promova

Becoming a professional user of police terminology requires special training in a police academy and some practice in implementing law enforcement words into use at work. However, if you aim to learn police vocabulary just to expand your English glossary, you won't need any of that. The language learning platform Promova can help you to level up your knowledge of the police vocabulary words. 

The Promova app offers to memorize all the basic types of crimes against property and people, as well as money crimes, useful verbs in the legal world, and idioms related to crime using the spaced-repetition method. Our bite-sized lessons are built, so you don't need to dedicate much time to learning new lexicon. Instead, you can pick a lesson according to your level and memorize the words just in 5-10 minutes of playing with our cute flashcards. A big plus is that you can learn all that English law enforcement terminology through English. Such an approach will increase your chances of learning quicker as you are fully immersed in the target language. 

As a one-stop tool for English learning, Promova also encourages you to learn and practice cop terminology with the help of professional English teachers. We created a tutoring program that meets all English learners' needs. We offer individual and group classes according to the level, target skill, preferred variation of English, and availability. You can take our placement test to determine your proficiency level in English and get a personalized learning plan that considers your interests, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. 

And as a cherry on top, the Promova authors regularly update the blog to give you even more educational content to grasp. And since you are into police vocabulary, you could also learn some scammer phrases to spot a crook and slang for money

Conclusion 

Knowing police vocabulary will benefit your English in everyday life, even if you have nothing to do with police in terms of work:

  1. You will finally dare to watch criminal and detective tv shows in English without subtitles. We know that watching English content where the characters constantly tap into specialized terms might be intimidating and unmotivating. But once you memorize police terms and definitions the movies and series about cops or the FBI will feel like fun again.
  2. Police terminology will help you fully participate in hot-topic discussions. Media always keep people informed about the crimes committed and significant trials like the one with Amber Heard and Johnny Depp.
  3. Most importantly, you will be able to get the gist of the criminal situation near you and act in the best way possible and blow the whistle to catch someone red-handed. 

FAQ

What are slang words for police?

Calling a police officer simply officer, policeman, or policewoman is pretty formal. And having face-to-face communication with a defender of the law is the only correct way of addressing them. Nonetheless, in movies and day-to-day life, you will rarely hear someone referring to a police representative in such a way. Most likely, people will use some slang synonyms. In the UK, slang words for police are plod, peeler, and fuzz. The US police are called cop, bobby, copper, bogey, the boys in blue, bear, barney, and bull. There are some other slang words for law enforcement personnel. Detectives are dicks, FBI agents are federals, the feds or G-men. 

What is the police alphabet code?

The phonetic police code is a system of words and names that directly correlates to letters. As an English learner with some experience, you know that spelling and pronunciation in English differ a lot. That is why the US police developed a phonetic alphabet to clarify communication with dispatchers through radio, even if the radio traffic is fuzzy. It may take a little mortise to pass the information, but it also eliminates the need to repeat messages because the dispatcher received it correctly from the first attempt. The alphabet published by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, in 1956 has been used in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The police alphabet consists of the following:

  1. A is Adam 
  2. B is Boy
  3. C is Charlie
  4. D is David
  5. E is Edward
  6. F is Frank
  7. G is George
  8. H is Henry
  9. I is Ida
  10. J is John
  11. K is King
  12. L is Lincoln
  13. M is Mary
  14. N is Nora
  15. O is Ocean
  16. P is Paul
  17. Q is Queen
  18. R is Robert
  19. S is Sam
  20. T is Tom
  21. U is Union
  22. V is Victor
  23. W is William
  24. X is X-Ray
  25. Y is Young
  26. Z is Zebra

What is a digit police code?

A digit police code is a numerical code for transmitting information through the police radio systems used by law enforcement personnel. Such codes correspond to specific situations, crimes, and states on duty. Police officers usually pronounce every code digit-by-digit to make their message clear to the receiver. Signals, incident codes, response codes, or other status codes vary by state, county, and agency. So, police officers always have to refresh their knowledge when changing their place of work. In general, it is more tactically advantageous and safe to use police code than explain what is going on with "plain language" so anyone could understand the police and act at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, all codes can be found publicly available on the Internet. That's how we know that, for instance, 10-54 corresponds to a hit-and-run accident, and 11-99 means that an officer needs help. 

What do police say in arrests?

If you are a fan of American movies and tv shows about police, detectives, and the FBI, you must have heard what the law enforcement personnel says to a suspect during the arrest. Usually, the US law representative informs a person why they are being arrested and reads their Miranda Rights. 

The Miranda Warning says: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?"

If the police officer forgets to read the Miranda Rights, the suspect will be released from the guard because the arrest was improper.

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