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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?