How Well Do You Know Law Enforcement Slang?


By: Deborah Beckwin

7 Min Quiz

Image: Ariel Skelley/DigitalVision/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Law enforcement across the United States and across the globe have their own jargon and slang. 

Some of the language is derived from local and state penal codes, so they may not be relevant outside of the localities or municipalities where police officers work. But sometimes the words become more widely used in a region or throughout a country. For example, the California Penal Code for murder is 187, and through popular culture, it became a mainstream slang term.

Yet other slang terms are derived from the law enforcement officers themselves. (A lot of law enforcement slang is quite colorful, so you will not be seeing those words in this quiz.)

Beyond the slang, there's ten-codes used for communication on radios, as well as response codes which have the word "Code" with a number. And then there are the plethora of acronyms, which some of them you probably know: GTA (grand theft auto), DUI (driving under the influence), APB (all-points bulletin), DOA (dead on arrival) and DOC (Department of Corrections). But there are even more acronyms and terms used by law enforcement to test your knowledge on.

We hope you enjoy this trip through LEO slang and jargon. We promise you won't get pinched! Good luck!

If someone is acting "hinky," what does that mean?

The origins for the word "hinky" are old, possibly from the old Scots word "hink," which means "to hobble or limp." Either way, it's a way to describe someone's unusual behavior that causes police officers' concern.


You've probably seen this sort of pursuit on a lot of cop shows, but never knew the slang term for it. What is "bailing in/bailing out"?

"Bailing in/bailing out" may sound like a banking term, which it is. But for cops, it's when someone they're pursuing ditches their car and tries to run way on foot.


Police have a term for this activity that some people have to do on occasion—what is the "golden flow''?

Another euphemism by law enforcement, "golden flow" refers to taking a urine test for drugs. This can be a random drug screen or a planned one.


If you're driving and see these in your rear view, you probably need to pull over. What are "berries & cherries"?

Although you should possibly pull over for a fire truck or an ambulance, it's not necessary if they don't have their flashing lights or aren't using their sirens. Sometimes, police cars only have their cherries (the red lights), but "berries & cherries" refers to the blue (berries) and red (cherries) lights on top of their patrol vehicles.


If you have a set of "jiggle keys", what do you have?

In the age of keyless ignition, "jiggle keys," also known as "master keys" or "jigglers," really have no use. But back in the 1980s and 1990s, getting keys made from fingernail files or creating shaved keys (grooves ground down, making the key look really thin) made it easier for car thieves to steal popular cars from car makers such as Saturn (RIP), Toyota and Honda.


In cop slang, what is a "California roll"?

Also known as a "California stop," a "California roll" means you haven't come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign. This means your speedometer needs to be at zero. Although it's not entirely clear where this saying came from, one of the most common traffic violations is failing to stop at stop signs and red lights.


If you're going to a place with "three hots and a cot", where are you going?

Cops have many euphemisms and sayings for jail or prison. Whether it's called "The Pokey," "The Cross Bar Hotel," "The Gray Bar Hotel" or "The Gray Door Hotel," it's a place where people who've been arrested go next.


Sometimes cops encounter some intense suspects. What does "vox" mean?

Officially, the term is "violent intox." It's one thing to be inebriated, but it's another if you get angry or violent, too. If someone is a "vox," a cop may need backup to handle this person.


If you're a cop, you're going to encounter your fair share of dirtbags. Who or what is a "dirtbag"?

There are plenty of other names for perpetrators, some of which we can't write here. But some other common names for the bad guys: "maggot," "scumbag," "mutt," "skell" and "hooftie."


This is a part of so many cop shows and movies—who or what is a "rabbit"?

The chase, the pursuit—it's a part of so many cop movies and shows. And who gives chase is the "rabbit"—the suspect or perp on the run from the police.


If you're given some "jewelry" by the police, what are you exactly being given?

It's another euphemism from law enforcement officers. It's probably the only kind of jewelry you'll always want to avoid.


If a cop says someone is "in the wind", where are they?

"In the wind" mainly applies to people who have an active warrant and will be arrested. Another term for this is GOA (gone on arrival).


Unfortunately, this is a common offense across the country, especially during the holidays. What is a "deuce"?

"Deuce" (DUI is an acronym for driving under the influence) has its origins in California law enforcement agencies. A "super deuce" is known as a felony DUI. A "D-Dub" is a DWI (driving while intoxicated).


This is one common part of a cop's job—what is "knock and lock"?

This rhyming euphemism is one of the common activities cops have to do. "Knock" means going to someone's home and literally knocking on the door. "Lock" refers to locking someone up in jail.


As a cop, one may be walking into some dangerous situations. So what does "keepin' six" mean?

"Keepin' six" is for six o'clock. If you've ever heard people talk about looking at people or things at a certain position on the clock (e.g., suspect, 12 o'clock), then you know this is about where things are in relation to your body and its surroundings. Six o'clock refers to one's back, since that's where the hour hand would be in relation to one's body.


This "six pack" is different than the one you're used to, although it's an important part of police work.

This "six pack" has nothing to do with drinking beers or someone's physical fitness. It's to help eyewitnesses or victims identify someone who has committed a crime.


If you have a "9 Mike Mike", what do you have?

Another euphemism from cops, Nine Mike Mike comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet, where M stands for Mike. You can use Mike Mike for any weapon's caliber.


If you're an officer and get stuck with some "paper", what are you stuck with?

If you're "writing paper," then you're writing a report. "Paper" can also mean someone who is on parole or probation. Depending on the context, "paper" can mean different things.


We've all been guilty of doing this—who or what is a "looky loo"?

Being a "looky loo" is so tempting as a driving because you want to know what's going on and see how bad the accident was. But it also means you're probably not looking where you're going and could cause another accident.


This slang term is also used by truckers—what is an "organ donor"?

This is one of the sardonic but honest slang terms about motorcyclists. Head injuries are one of the most common injuries that motorcyclists face while riding, especially without a helmet.


When someone is "tinning", what are they doing?

The "tin" is the badge, and tinning means flashing your badge. That could be when you're talking to a person of interest, a suspect or just someone you need to talk to. You can also "tin to get in," meaning you flash your badge at the door of a bar or club so you can get in for free.


This is something you don't want a police officer to do to you. What does "hang paper" mean?

No one likes getting a ticket, for whatever reason. And the slang for this term is pretty straightforward, but it is very different from "paper hanging" or being a "paper hanger."


After a shift, cops tend to go to "choir practice". Do you know what choir practice is?

"Choir practice" is based off of the famous cop novel "The Choirboys" by former cop Joseph Wambaugh. These days, "choir practice" just means hanging out while off-duty to decompress and have fun, whether it's at a bar or not.


If you're a cop and have to write a "Dear Chief" letter, what are you writing about?

The "Dear Chief" letter is definitely not a fun one to write. To explain what went on in a messy situation you carelessly caused is probably the last thing you want to do as a cop.


Cops have a number of names for rookies. What is a "blue flamer"?

A blue flamer can understandably be obnoxious or annoying. Their eagerness to do police work may be a bit over the top.


This has become a recent epidemic in the 2010s. What is "slamming"?

As a slang word, "slamming" means a lot of different things outside of the law enforcement world. But "slamming" for cops means injecting drugs (such as heroin) via hypodermic needles.


LEOs often use the NATO phonetic alphabet, which has unique words for every letter of the English alphabet. So what does "1 Delta 10 Tango" mean?

LEOs use a lot of colorful language in code—with acronyms and with the NATO phonetic alphabet. "1 Delta 10 Tango" has the numbers acting as vowels, with the 1s as the Is and the zero acting as the letter O.


We've all seen someone like this—who is a "sidewalk inspector"?

Many times, cops are dealing with drunk people of all sorts. "Sidewalk inspector" is a euphemism for someone who has passed out face down. It's similar to another slang term, "lawn ornament."


When two cops are "Mutt and Jeff", what's happening?

The origins of "Mutt 'n' Jeff" go back to early 20th-century U.K., from a comic strip of the same name. It's also meant to talk about two people who are wildly different.


When a cop uses a "Kojak light", what are they using?

Who loves you, baby? This flashing light is for unmarked cop cars, so when they need to pursue a suspect or get to some place fast, they throw up the "Kojak light." This was taken from the old cop show, "Kojak."


When police officers talk about a "Q-tip", what are they talking about?

As we age, we can begin to become shorter. And the term "Q-tip" takes that into account, because it's the image of only being able to see white hair from the rear of a vehicle, like a big cotton ball. And that's usually because elderly women are sitting low in their seats.


If you're a driver, you've probably seen this and didn't know. What is "FADAR"?

If you're speeding on the highway and see a cop with his radar gun out, you may or may not be getting scanned. But seeing a cop with a radar causes you to slow down, right? So then it becomes a deterrent for speeders.


In the world of cop slang, "paper" can mean different things. So what does "paper hanger" mean?

The term "paper hanging" comes from the time period when a check clears—the float. So a paper hanger uses the float to write fraudulent checks and withdraw funds when they're made available—and then ditch the account once the bank realizes the checks are bad.


Sometimes, when dealing with suspects and perpetrators, stuff happens. What is a "homecoming bib"?

Dealing with intoxicated people can mean unintended contact with body fluids. So tying a garbage bag or biohazard bag around a drunk person's neck can keep one's patrol car (and the suspect) clean. This is the same idea behind a "backseat diaper," which is a garbage bag placed in the back seat of a patrol car just in case someone soils themselves.


Police officers are on the lookout for a lot of things. The term "stolo" refers to what?

"Stolo" means "stolen car." This slang term seems to be used by those on the other side of the law, too. If you're "rollin' stolen," then you're driving a stolen car.


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