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Replying to this post by HALLofMIRRORS:
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A fiction writer, especially in the areas of romantic suspense and mystery, most likely has at least one police officer or detective traipsing around in her text. With all the stereotypes and preconceived notions about cops, how can you be sure your portrayal isn't cliché and cardboard?

As a writer and a police officer, I have a unique insight into what cops are, the way we are, and why we are the way we are. Writing about real police characters is easier when you have some understanding about what becoming, being, and surviving as, an officer really entails.

I've separated this subject into a series of three articles: Police Jargon: How to Talk Like A Cop, Police Body Language and Behavior: You Gotta Walk the Walk, and What Do Cops Do?

This first section, Police Jargon, although by no means complete, will give you some realistic spice to add to that magical recipe called Your Book.

Law Enforcement, like any other profession, has its own sound. This isn't about the professional "legalese," but rather the quirks of language that make a cop sound like a cop. They're often simple and subtle, but they go a long way towards fleshing out an otherwise stereotypical depiction of a character.

Good, not Bad.

Cops don't say, "We had a really bad accident on the highway." What is a "bad" accident to civilians is a "good" accident to a cop. A good crash, a good brawl, a good sex assault. It's not a value judgment. No one really thinks a sex assault of any type is good. Bad is good, because 99.9% of cops want to handle the bad incidents, so when they happen, that is "good.". When a cop returns from days off or vacation, you'd most likely hear him/her asking, "Did anything good happen while I was gone?"

Good means bad.

Suspect, not Perp.

Victims' advocates refer to the bad guys as Perps. In some other parts of the country, officers call them Perps (I've heard), but in this part of the country, we call them suspects. They are also referred to as bad guys, defendants (in court), arrestees (when applicable), and dirt bags, (but only out of their earshot and when they're really bad!)

Radio Talk.

The vast majority of police communication takes place over the radio. Your police characters will have to talk on the radio, in most cases, to make your story realistic. There are simple keys to making your fictional radio talk sound real to your readers.

For the most part, the 10-code system is obsolete (i.e. "Ten-four..."). Most police departments talk in "clear language" with a few coded exceptions. The good news? Radio code systems vary so widely from department to department that it wouldn't be obvious to the reader if you used artistic license in creating one. There are four rather common codes, though:

"Code Four"------------------------------I'm okay. Also, Are you okay?
To go along with this, officers will sometimes drive by other officers
on scenes or traffic stops and hold up four fingers. That's another way
of asking, Are you okay? If the other officer gives you four fingers
back, that means yes.

"Code Five"--------------------------------------- Wanted person.
When we "clear" a person (meaning, have dispatch check them through the
National and Colorado Crime Information Computers for wants and warrants), and the dispatcher replies, "Code Five," we know our person is wanted.

"Code Eight (or Ten for Denver P.D.)--------Officer calling for help.
This code is reserved for critical situations: when there have been
shots fired (or about to be fired,) or when you're getting your butt
kicked in a fight, for example. When an officer calls code eight, every
working officer who doesn't have an arrestee drops what he or she is
doing to aid the officer in trouble. This is an iron clad, never broken

"Code Three"----------------------------------- Using lights and sirens.
When a squad car, ambulance, or fire engine goes to a call using all its
sound and light equipment, that is a "Code three response." (A regular
response is a Code two.)

The following list is the radio codes my department uses, which can be utilized verbatim or modified for your purposes:

Code Zero------------------------------Officer safety issue, use caution.
For example, if another officer knows the person you're contacting, he may say, "use code zero, he's combative."

Code One---------------------------------------I need a cover car quickly (less serious than a code eight)

Code Two--------------------------------------Normal response, no emergency equipment

Code Three------------------------------------Respond with lights and sirens

Code Four-------------------------------------I'm okay or Are you okay?

Code Four for now---------------------------I'm okay for the moment, keep a cover car coming.

Code Five-------------------------------------Person with a warrant of some kind.

Code Six--------------------------------------Busy doing something. For example, "I'm code six with a suspicious vehicle at the corner of 38 and Kipling."

Code Seven-----------------------------------Out of service for lunch. Lunch is referred to as "taking a code 7."

Code Eight------------------------------------Officer calling for help.

Code Nine-------------------------------------Traffic stop. Referred to as "going code 9 with a vehicle."

Code Ten--------------------------------------Only essential radio traffic on a given channel. For example, if there is an armed robbery in progress, the dispatcher will announce that there is a code 10 on channel one. Only officers responding to the robbery may speak on that channel.

Code Eleven-----------------------------------I've arrived on scene.

Code Twelve----------------------------------I've left the scene and I'm back in service.

Code Thirteen---------------------------------I'm at the Police Department. Also used in the form of a question: "Can you code 13 for a walk in report?"

In addition to the codes, radio transmissions are unique in their format. By FCC regulation, the person transmitting must break their transmission every 15 seconds and wait for a "go ahead" from the person on the other end. In script form, a radio transmission about a wanted person would look like this:

Dispatcher: Adam Twelve code five.
Adam Twelve: Twelve, code five, go ahead.
Dispatcher: I'm showing a warrant on your party, Doe, John Q., date of birth three five of sixty, showing physical as white male, six foot, two-eighty, blond and blue, break--
Adam Twelve: Go ahead.
Dispatcher: Out of Denver. Failure to appear on domestic violence/assault. Thousand dollar bond, break--
Adam Twelve: Go ahead.
Dispatcher: Also a second warrant out of Northglenn, same charge, fifteen hundred dollar bond.
Adam Twelve: Copy. Confirm them both.

You may never use a conversation like the one above, but understanding radio procedure helps to understand the "sound" of police.

You say tomato, we say to-mah-to.

A glaring difference between police language and normal speech boils down to the words we use to describe things. We learn to refer to people, places, and things differently than civilians. A lot of it starts with police reports which must be articulated in specific and formal ways. We write so many reports that the written vernacular carries over to our speech. A regular person would write: I walked up to the car and told the guy to get out. He wouldn't get out and started yelling at me, so I yanked him out and threw him on the ground. A cop would write: I approached the vehicle and ordered the suspect out. He failed to comply and became increasingly verbally uncooperative. In light of this, and for officer safety reasons, I physically removed him from the vehicle and placed him prone on the ground in accordance with departmental use of force policy. (Yes, we really write like this!)

The following is a list of the most common word differences:
You Say... Cops Say...
Fight-------------------------------------- Disturbance
Go to-------------------------------------Respond to
I'm on the way---------------------------I'm en route
Kids--------------------------------------- Juveniles
Yes-------------------------------- --------Affirmative, Affirm, or That's affirmative
No----------------------------------------- Negative or That's negative
Got out of the car------------------------Exited the vehicle
To "hog tie" someone-------------------Place them in 4-point restraints

(proper terms) Suitcase them (common terms)
Get together with a co-worker---------Get a meet
"Who reported the crime?"-------------"Who's my RP?"
Tow truck------------------------------- -Hook
Wait---------------------------------------Stand by
Copy---------------------------------------I understand. Or, handle; respond to, as in, "Copy a call."
Accident----------------------------------Paul Ida (with injuries)Paul David (no injuries), or a "T.A."

This section is simple. Police officers swear. It's part of the subculture so ingrained that even the most innocent, most devoutly religious, most squeaky clean officers do it at some point. How you handle it in your books will depend on the requirements of the line you're writing for, but keep in mind, a cop getting shot at isn't going to say, "Golly, that was a bullet..."

I've barely scratched the surface of the unique language of law enforcement, but sometimes a little bit of knowledge is enough to add realism to our writing. Sprinkling these words and phrases in your text will add a feeling of truth to your story. If you are writing about a specific department or city, I suggest you ride along with an officer, ask him or her about their specific jargon, and listen.

My next article will deal with police body language and behavior. Until then, I hope you copied this info and are code four. I'm en route code three to a code seven!

Originally printed in Romance In The Rockies, April '96 issue.
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