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COP started it

A Little Sumptin’ About Cop Acronyms

by Thonie Hevron

With apologies to my Wednesday post readers-I’m a little late. Here is your Wednesday post in all its glory!

Sir Robert Peel
Sir Robert Peel

It started with COP. In 1829, Sir Robert Peel of Britain succeeded in reforming the criminal laws and established the London police force, whose members came to be called Peelers or Bobbies. In time, another title: “Constable on Patrol” was shortened to cop.

For the same reason radio codes are used, cops have come to use acronyms as shorthand. Whether a pursuit at 90 miles per hour or sneaking around a fence line searching for a prowler, an officer cannot always afford the time to use proper English. Codes help but don’t always do the trick. To avoid confusion, shorthand acronyms are used.


Some are universal, some unique to the agency that uses it. For instance, when I worked for Petaluma PD, we used the letter “W” to designate the station. No one knew its origin but it was used until I left in 1991. Anyone know if they still use it? 


There are many terms for the same thing. In Southern California, law enforcement uses “BO” to indicate something (usually equipment) is broken. In Northern Cali, if I said BO on the radio, everyone would think I was calling something stinky. Here we use “down”. An example: My patrol unit is down.


Also while in Petaluma, I worked with a Wonder Dispatcher who had a low tolerance for fools—in or out of uniform. Before computers, magnets were used for unit identifiers. A BTW: For example—Gerry Goldshine was 1Tom36: 1 (1 is city designator for Petaluma, 10 for the Sheriff’s Office) Tom (the alpha that stands for a traffic unit) 36 was his patrol number. When I was a Community Service Officer (acronym: CSO, predictably) I was 1Charles 65-Charles was the CSO alpha.   

Police dispatcher  photo by
Police dispatcher
photo by

Somehow, Wonder Dispatcher got a magnet made with NARS on it. It stood for “Not a Rocket Scientist”. Every day she worked, she would place the little sign over the officer’s activity card. Whoever made a fool of himself (or herself) that shift, got the dubious honor. This was awarded for general or specific stupidity and Wonder Dispatcher was the Queen who bestowed it.

Sometimes members of the general public were given their own acronyms. A particularly used set of initials were not condoned by the department, but used regularly as needed: PVP, NHI. Needs were based on judgments about the type of call or the behavior of the involved parties. “Low-lifes” occupy a lot of police time. Many are regulars—or frequent fliers—who don’t have the common sense to solve their problems, thus they become a problem for others. The letters stand for “puke versus puke, no humans involved”.

Most of the other acronyms I can readily think of aren’t nearly so interesting. Here are a few.

DEA-Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI and all the other agencies…

GOA-gone on arrival

OIS-officer involved shooting

WC-watch commander

ETA-estimated time of arrival

X-stands for female i.e. 10-15X is a female arrestee


IFO-in front of; JSO-just south (change the letter for the different direction) of…

HBD-has been drinking or ETOH-borrowed from our paramedic co-workers, it pertains to someone who has been drinking

HUA-when I quizzed acronyms on Facebook, this one got volunteered a lot from friends who know the job. It’s a catch all that hopefully won’t see much radio time: head up ass

BOL or BOLO-Be on the Lookout; similar to APB-all points bulletin

WMA and variations: white male adult (race, gender, age given in same order), WFJ is a white female juvenile, BFA is a black female adult, Latins are generally known as Mexican or Hispanic (is currently correct), Asian are O probably to avoid confusion with Adult…and so on.

DOA-dead on arrival

PC and VC-penal code and vehicle code; the two Bibles for California law enforcement. Additionally there are other code books we must know: WIC-Welfare and Institutions Code (particularly in child welfare incidents) H&S-Health and Safety is used in drug incidents, including cultivation, use, sale, and possession of all types of narcotics and other drugs.

POS-refers to a vehicle, residence or sometimes even a person that is a “piece of shit”

Most of these won’t find their way to official police transcripts or on the radio. Some are just used to get a point across to another officer.

Sure had fun putting this list together.

Any more out there?

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

6 replies on “COP started it”

Great post, Thonie.

The toughest things for dispatchers to learn in the days before computers were street codes. Every street in the county (county wide dispatch center) had a three-character code, and the call-takers would code out the dispatch cards with those. Better not key the mic until you were sure of the coded location.

For example, the corner of Vista and Overland was VST/OVL. Orchard and Overland was ORC/OVL. North 9th and Jefferson was N09/JEF. For addresses, it was like 6319FRV (all one group) for 6319 Fairview Ave.

Along your lines were STM for See the man (or STW). So the call taker might hand the dispatcher a card that said, STM BurgJO, 7-11 FRV/ALM (See the man, burglary just occurred at the 7-11, Fairview & Allumbaugh) Code 2 or 3 was the number in a circle.

Even though the cards in dispatch were coded, all dispatches were open language. We used 10 codes but very few, and usually without the ’10’. So, “Dispatch, 327 19” meant Unit 327 was at the station (10-19).

At one point, we used car designators similar to what you describe, largely because our administrative services commander was ex-LAPD. We later went to a numeric hierarchy, which had a lot of information.

The three digits represented Assignment – Team – Area. So 327 was the unit on third shift, the second team on-duty, and assigned to patrol are 7. That unit’s sergeant was 320. His lieutenant was 301.

Detectives were in the 500 series (As a detective lieutenant, I was 501). Narcotics was 600, and 700 was for juvenile / school resource officers. “Team” designators were somewhat arbitrary, and ‘area’ was by unit seniority. So the senior detective in robbery/homicide was 511 and the junior in that unit was 514. The sergeant was 510.

Captains were even hundreds. Patrol capt was 100, Detective captain 500, Administrative captain 800 and as the IA captain, my designator was 900.

The distinct advantage was if I knew a unit’s radio designator, I knew his entire chain of command.

The chief was 1000, and the deputy chiefs were 1001 and 1002.

Fascinating info, Mike. Sonoma County Sheriff has a similar arrangement for their patrol units: F is graveyard (better to know for cover or overlap units), second number would be the beat and the their hierarchy. For example, F21 would be a local (Santa Rosa unit, if I recall correctly) and the senior officer on the beat. Administration was more traditional in the model I presented in the post. Thanks for your info; it’s very interesting.

Thonie I enjoyed this post. All police departments are different, Hollywood bordered with West Hollywood Sheriffs. They use the 10 code. I had a hard time understanding them when face to face and visa versa. Some of your 3 letter codes are the same NHI, GOA, ETA. Etc.

Our call letters were 1 Adam 12 . 1 was the divsion, Central, Adam was a 2 man car, L was a one man car, 12 was the basic car district or area.

We only used BOLO or APB as a way to amuse the disparcher. I once said 6A65 were “transparent” instead of “clear.” I got the best calls all night. I learned early, don’t piss off the dispatcher.

All voice transmissions were recorded so we had to be politically correct or you get disciplined. Hal

Oh, yeah. Back in the olden days, it wasn’t so. In San Rafael, I remember the graveyard sergeant having to get on the radio and tell the units to “cut the levity”. It merely slowed us down for a while.

When Robert Peel formed the London police force, he used money (and cloth) from his family’s cotton industry to outfit them with uniforms which included bright (and expensive), impressive, copper buttons. Besides Bobbies (for Robert Peel), and Peelers, in Northern Ireland, they were recognized for their shiny buttons, and known as “coppers”, later shortened to “cops” C. O. P. for constable on patrol is, at best, a backronym, validating a word whose history is forgotten.

Welcome to Thonie's world!

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