Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Police Slang By Guest Author Michael A. Black

Please welcome fellow author Michael A. Black. Black is the author of 30 books, the majority of which are in the mystery and thriller genres, although he has written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres as well. A retired police officer with over 30 years’ experience, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and has written two novels with television star, Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). Black is currently writing the Executioner series (Fatal Prescription, Missile Intercept) under the name Don Pendleton. His latest novel under his own name is Blood Trails.

Cops speak their own language and many times it’s a bit rough. You’ve heard of swearing like a sailor? Well, cops are no strangers to bad language, either. I remember when I first started in law enforcement I attended training programs in which they basically stated that sometimes an officer needed to get down and dirty with his or her language in order to communicate with suspects who wouldn’t understand anything else. Now keep in mind this was way before the advent of body cams and cell phone videotaping capabilities. With these technological developments it became obvious that using such language made the officers look unprofessional. While it could be argued by civil libertarians that this is a First Amendment issue, and officers should be able to say anything they wish, the fact remains that an officer should be held to a higher standard of conduct, especially when dealing with the general public.

But what about when officers are communicating between themselves? Special slang is often used in these cases. For writers who want to imbue a sense of realism into their works, including a dash of slang is like adding a bit of salt to a pot of soup. Too much can spoil the broth, but too little will leave it tasting flat. So let’s take a look at some common police jargon.

The first thing to keep in mind is that police jargon varies from region to region throughout our great country. In New York, for instance, it would be common to hear the bad guys referred to as “Perps.” The term “perp walk” is commonly used when referring to a line of arrested subjects being led in view of the news cameras. Going west from there, things change a bit. “Perps” become “Offenders” or “Suspects” as you enter the Midwest. Moving to the West Coast, an LAPD officer would refer to a “Subject” rather than a “Perp.” Usually the smaller departments follow the jargon of the larger ones in the vicinity. The use of radio Ten Codes varies from region to region as well. And officers might also refer to a criminal statute number to designate particular crime. In California, the statute number for homicide is 187, which is also used to designate a murder by officers. “We’ve got a 187, sarge,” an officer might say as his supervisor pulls up to a dead body. A 187 tattoo on the arm of a gangbanger might also advertise that he’s a real bad dude who’s been arrested for murder. Other statute numbers might also apply. In Illinois the charge for a Driving While Intoxicated is 728 ILCS 11-501. An officer might shorten this to advise his partner that he’s got a “Five oh one,” or an intoxicated motorist. Or he could use the ten-code and say, “We’ve got a 10-55.”

 Why would an officer use such terminology? For one thing, it has to do with communication and speaking in a manner that the general public doesn’t immediately recognize. Thus, police develop their own language to effect a semi-private communication.

Remember I mentioned the ten codes? Many times these are used to facilitate officer-to-officer communication as well.

Let me give you a quick example.

I was working a plain clothes unit and we received a call of some suspicious people in a shopping mall. The trio, two males and one female, had been observed going from store to store using a credit card to purchase large quantities of fine jewelry. The sales were all going through, but their conduct and the large purchases, which were being quickly done, raised some red flags with the store security personnel. We were dressed in regular clothes so it wasn’t apparent that we were the police. Our radios were clipped on our belts, under our shirts, and we had ear mics so we could silently monitor transmissions. We were in the center area of the mall, and it was very crowded.

A female store security guard, who was also dressed in civilian clothes, had followed the trio to a vehicle earlier where they’d stashed some of the jewelry they’d bought before returning to the mall for more shopping. The three of them had split up, but we had them all in sight. The security guard gave me the license plate of the vehicle and I covertly ran a check on it. I was ascending an escalator, watching my two partners on the upper level. Two of the suspects, a male and a female, were in front of a jewelry store on the upper level, and the third, another male, was briskly walking toward them. Their body language indicated to me that they might be getting ready to rabbit. (That’s another bit of police slang.)

The dispatcher’s voice sounded tense when she called me back: “Twenty-one-oh-eight, are you clear?” This was radio protocol telling me that the plate I had run was coming back with some sort of warning attached. I responded for her to go ahead with her transmission. She then informed me that the vehicle was wanted in connection with a homicide investigation and that the occupants were considered to be armed and dangerous.

I got to the top of the escalator and one of my partners met me there. Our other partner, who had probably picked up on the same rabbit vibes that I had, was walking about ten feet behind one of the male suspects and looked ready to stop him for questioning.

“Did you hear that?” I asked my partner by the escalator, wondering if he’d heard the armed and dangerous tag.

“Hear what?” he said.

I then saw that he hadn’t inserted his ear mic. My other partner wasn’t wearing his either and was closing in on the guy fast.

I had to communicate the danger in a quick and effective manner, letting my partners know of the possible danger, but not also alerting the suspects.

“Possible 10-32,” I yelled.

That’s the ten-code for “Man with a gun.”

My partner immediately grabbed the suspect’s arms and took him to the ground. With the large amount of civilian shoppers in the vicinity, we had to take measures to secure the suspects and prevent any possible danger to the general public. My other partner and I moved in and grabbed the other two. It was over in a matter of seconds, and no one was injured. The suspects were using the credit card of a murdered woman. One of them was her son, who had a severe drug problem. He subsequently admitted to having strangled her in a dispute over money, which he wanted to use to buy drugs.

So the bottom line is this: check the type of jargon used by the police in the area in which you set your story, and sprinkle in a bit here and there. Just make sure you get that regional speech right, and remember, in Chicago you’ll never hear a copper calling a suspect a “perp.”


Camille Minichino said...

Thanks, Michael! You've given us such a great resource here. I always enjoy and learn from your stories -- fiction and nonfiction!
And thanks for your service in so many arenas.

Ann Parker said...

Wow... there's so much I didn't know about how to "talk like a cop!" Thanks, Michael, for sharing with us! :-)

Liz said...

Interesting post. Thank you Mr. Black and Ann.

I did have trouble finding you on Goodreads but, when I did, saw you had co-authored with Julie Hyzy, whose White House series I enjoyed so much.

Ann Parker said...

.... AND I just discovered that Michael's Fatal Prescription has been nominated for a International Association of Media Tie-In Writers award!! Way to go, Michael! Congratulations!! :-D

Margaret Lucke said...

Thanks, Michael. Excellent post. It's great to see you here, and to have another of your behind-the-scenes looks at being a cop. Congrats on the award nomination!