Every job has a language all its own. Work jargon is a shorthand; it helps people in that world communicate easier and faster. Some of it is numerical, some comes from long ago and the very origins of the job, and some is based on common language used today.
Police work uses a lot of numbers: 10 and 11 codes; Penal, Municipal, Motor Vehicle, Drug, Health and Safety, and Welfare and Institutions codes. A lot of talk used by cops is numerical in nature, either for officer safety reasons or for speed, in the field and over the radio. Some of it still used today sounds like it came from a 1940 gangster movie; other words are right out of urbandictionary.com. Most of these words are universal: cops around the country use them to describe themselves and their situations, just as much as the criminals they meet. Certain words and phrases become useful for both sides.
Some of these have a west coast origin, some come from down south (and a few from Texas, which are both accurate and homespun), and some from the east coast. Most are recognizable to cops from Alaska to Florida, Maine to California. Many current and former police officers, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol officers, and state police contributed to this list and there are lots of great stories that accompany some of the phrases.
To say cops try to find humor in their work understates it by half. A lot of what follows may not sound too politically correct or very compassionate to the person in handcuffs or laying dead on the ground, but people in the law enforcement profession must find ways to cope or “The Job” will literally kill them.
Cops face some of the highest stress levels of any profession and over the years, the cumulative emotional, biological, and physical side effects create an environment that makes them good candidates for strokes, heart attacks, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, alcoholism, depression, and suicide. More cops kill themselves every year – about 180 to 200 – then are killed in the line of duty – 115 to 125. Too many officers don’t live even ten years after they retire.
Their choice of words to describe what one officer calls “the baddest, saddest, and maddest society has to offer” allows them a uniquely personal and professional coping mechanism for the dark side of their jobs.
CJ – County Jail
Big Blue Wrecking Crew
Mother Green’s Big Machine, County Mounties – Sheriff’s deputies often wear green pants.
Deps – Sheriff’s Deputies
5-0 – From the TV show “Hawaii Five-O”
Dicks – Detectives
Duty Dick – Detective in Charge
Chief of Ds – Commanding Detective in Charge
Carpet Cops – Office-bound detectives
La Placa – Spanish for The Badge
Proper Villains (England)
Juvies / Js – Teenagers
Pooh Butts – Juveniles or young gangsters out to make a name for themselves.
Frequent Fliers – Career criminals
Gangsters / Gangbangers
Tweekers / Tweakers / Tweaksters – Meth users.
Hypes – Heroin addicts.
Stoners and Heshers – Marijuana users.
Geek monsters – Crack cocaine users.
Boozers / Boozehounds
Nines – 9mm handguns.
Caps – Bullets, ammo
Wheel Gun – Revolver
Burp Gun – Automatic long gun.
Zip Gun – Homemade device that fires one round.
Cuffed / Cuffed up
“The Magic Words” – You’re under arrest.
“You know the position” – Put your hands behind your back.
Policy Cab Company
Graybar Hotel Courtesy Shuttle
“My Office” - "Go take a seat in the back of my office."
Black and Whites
Adam 69 / Kissing Mirrors – Parking patrol cars front to back alongside, so the driver officers can talk to each other.
The Cop House
Injured People or Dead Bodies
Mr. or Dr. Orange – Color of the stomach pump used at the hospital.
FTD – Fixin’ to Die.
DRT – Dead Right There.
CTD – Circling the Drain.
ADSTW – Arrived Dead, Stayed That Way.
44 Blanket – Yellow blanket used to cover a dead body (11-44 is a Coroner’s Case).
Homicide Unit – “Our Day Starts When Yours Ends”
Floaters – Bodies pulled from the water.
Swingers – Suicides by hanging.
Mentally Ill People / Mental Hospitals
EDPs – Emotionally Disturbed Persons.
CMH – County Mental Health Hospital
The Rubber Room
The Butterfly Academy
"Doing the Thorazine Shuffle"
"Getting a 72-hour Tuneup" – A three-day mandated stay for a mental health evaluation.
Some fun ones . . .
Land Sharks – Police K9 dogs
Beat Wife / Badge Bunny – A girlfriend (as in, not your wife) who lives or works on your beat
“Stake and Notify” – Watch the house / car and call detectives.
“We like him for it” – A murder suspect
Grand Mopery with Intent to Gawk or Grand Creepery with Intent to Mope – What cops arrest stupid crooks for.
Dr. Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, is a San Diego-based speaker, author, and trainer. He is board certified in HR, security, and coaching. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and police subjects. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht