Police Terminology List in English

reviewed byNataliia Afonina / more about Editorial Process

If you love to watch crime movies and shows or simply aiming to understand different contexts better, knowing police jargon can be incredibly useful. In this article, you will learn an essential police terminology list to help you expand your vocabulary.

Mastering Police Terminology in English: A Guide for Language Learners

Common Police Terms

Understanding the foundational police terminology list will set the stage for a deeper dive into more specialized jargon. This section will familiarize you with terms that often pop up in general police discussions.

  • Arrest: the act of taking someone into custody due to suspected wrongdoing.
  • Bail: money paid to release a person from custody, ensuring their appearance in court.
  • Convict: to declare someone guilty of a crime.
  • Felony: a serious crime, typically with a punishment of more than one year's imprisonment.
  • Misdemeanor: a lesser offense than a felony, often resulting in a fine or short jail time.
  • Warrant: a document issued by a court authorizing the arrest or search of an individual or premises.
  • Parole: the release of a prisoner before the full sentence is served, under conditions.
  • Indictment: a formal accusation initiating a criminal case.
  • Plea: a defendant's answer to a charge or indictment (e.g., guilty, not guilty).
  • Acquittal: a formal declaration in court that someone is not guilty of a criminal offense.

These fundamental terms provide a groundwork for comprehending the intricacies of law enforcement. As you progress in your language journey, you'll recognize and appreciate the importance of these words. They're essential building blocks to navigate the police universe.

Communication Terms Inside the Force

Effective communication is paramount in police work. Often, specific codes and phrases are used to ensure quick and confidential information exchange. Here, you'll discover the police terminology list frequently used in communication:

  • Dispatch: the centralized place where calls are received and sent out to officers.
  • Radio Code: numeric or alphabetic code communicated over the radio for confidentiality.
  • APB (All Points Bulletin): a broadcast from one police station to all others in its network about a wanted person.
  • Undercover: working in disguise or in secret.
  • Stakeout: the surveillance of a location or person to gather evidence.
  • BOLO (Be On the Lookout): an alert to be watchful for a specific person or vehicle.
  • 10-4: radio code for "acknowledgment" or "understood."
  • Code Blue: typically refers to an emergency situation or threat.
  • Wiretap: the interception of communication, usually phone calls, for surveillance.
  • Informant: a person who provides information to law enforcement about criminal activity.

These communication terms offer a glimpse into the dynamic and often high-stakes world of law enforcement interaction. By understanding them, you'll grasp the efficiency and confidentiality emphasized in police dialogues. It's a unique language designed for swift, effective exchanges.

Crime Investigation Terms

Crime scenes are bustling with activity and specific terminology. To fully comprehend what's happening on the ground during investigations, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the related police terminology list. This section offers insights into the language of crime scene investigations.

  • Alibi: an account of where one was at the time of an incident, used as evidence of innocence.
  • Perp (Perpetrator): the person believed to have committed the crime.
  • Line-up: a method where witnesses identify criminals from a row of people.
  • Mugshot: a photograph taken of a person after they are arrested.
  • Forensics: the application of scientific methods to solve crimes.
  • CSI (Crime Scene Investigation): the team or procedure for gathering evidence from a crime scene.
  • Ballistics: the study of projectiles, often used to match bullets to specific firearms.
  • DNA evidence: genetic material used as evidence in criminal cases.
  • Autopsy: a medical examination of a deceased person to determine the cause of death.
  • Chain of custody: documentation of the sequence in which evidence is handled.

Diving into crime investigation terms unveils the meticulous nature of police work on the scene. This police vocabulary provides a roadmap to the intricate procedures and methods employed. They are essential for anyone keen on understanding the heart of crime-solving.


Terms for Interacting with Police

Interactions with the police can be nuanced, and understanding the language used is essential. The terms in this section aim to equip you with vocabulary that might be encountered during such interactions. They bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public.

  • Miranda Rights: the rights read to an arrested person, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
  • Probable Cause: reasonable grounds for making a search or pressing a charge.
  • Interrogation: questioning of a suspect or witness by law enforcement.
  • Patrol: the act of walking or driving around an area to keep it safe.
  • Search and seizure: a legal procedure where law enforcement searches an individual or property and confiscates evidence.
  • Affidavit: a written statement confirmed by oath, often used to obtain search warrants.
  • Booking: the process of formally charging a person with a crime and entering their information into the system.
  • Ride-along: an opportunity for civilians to accompany officers on their shifts to observe.
  • Detain: to hold someone in official custody, typically for questioning.

The police vocabulary covered here are instrumental in understanding personal rights and procedures during police interactions. As language learners, knowing these terms not only aids comprehension but also empowers you during potential real-life scenarios. Your knowledge here acts as both a shield and a bridge.

Understanding Ranks

When delving into the world of law enforcement, understanding the hierarchical structure is crucial. Just as in other professions, the police have a rank system that signifies authority, responsibility, and experience. This section will guide you through the ranks, giving clarity to who's who in the police department.

  • Rookie: an inexperienced officer or new recruit.
  • Detective: an officer responsible for investigating crimes.
  • Sergeant: an officer ranking above a patrolman but below a lieutenant.
  • Lieutenant: a rank above sergeant, often in charge of a police precinct or department section.
  • Chief of Police: the top-ranking officer in a police department.

Grasping the police hierarchy aids in recognizing the roles and responsibilities within a department. For language learners, knowing these ranks can help in understanding stories, news, or even real-life encounters more accurately. 

Bonus Words

Beyond the common and specialized terms, there's a realm of police vocabulary that offers a broader view of the law enforcement world. These police terms will add depth to your understanding, capturing the wider scope of policing. 

  • SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics): specialized units trained to handle situations like terrorism or hostage crises.
  • Perimeter: the outer boundary of a crime scene or area where police are working.
  • Raided: a sudden and surprise entry by police to arrest suspects or search for evidence.
  • K9 unit: police dogs and their handlers, used for various tasks like search and rescue.
  • Vice: crimes related to immoral activities, like prostitution or illegal gambling.
  • Cold case: an investigation that has not been solved after a considerable time but remains in the system.
  • Bust: a term for an arrest, often during a raid or sting operation.

These bonus words add an extra layer to your police vocabulary toolkit. While they might not be everyday terms, recognizing them can offer deeper insights into specific law enforcement contexts. 


Now that you've equipped yourself with these enhanced police terms, you'll better understand scenarios, whether they're on TV or in real life. By familiarizing yourself with this police terminology, you not only expand your English vocabulary but also get insights into the law enforcement world.

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