Have you ever wondered how the police uniforms evolved? And what about the jargon that law enforcers use? If you are curious to find our be sure to read through this article.
Police Uniforms History
Why Police Uniforms?
Police uniforms have seen a unique and colorful history since their inception in the early 1800's, and although the style of uniforms can vary greatly from place to place, they share common elements, and indeed a common purpose. Police officers wear uniforms to help them establish a visible presence while on duty, enabling them to be quickly and easily identified by citizens who require their service. A police officer on patrol in uniform is sometimes enough to deter crime, and uniforms enable police officers to identify each other quickly and easily at the scene of the crime. This hasn't always been the case. In fact, when the idea of uniforms was first introduced in the United States, many police officers thought they'd be ridiculed for standing out! Here's a look at police uniforms from their inception to modern times.
Early 1800's Police Uniforms
Standardized uniforms were implemented in the United Kingdom as early as 1828. Officers wore long, blue swallow-tail coats with high collars. They wore white pants in the summer, and dark trousers in the cooler months. A cane-reinforced top hat served two purposes - a distinguished head covering and a step so the officer could climb or see over walls. Most police officers of this time period were unarmed to distinguish them from military patrollers.
Late 1800's Police Uniforms
While England eagerly embraced standardized uniforms, it took significantly longer for the United States to hop on the bandwagon. In 1854, the first uniforms were introduced in New York City. In 1858, the cities of Boston and Chicago suited up. These early uniforms were simply surplus military attire from the Union Army - a navy blue suit, accented by a stove-pipe hat or a British-style custodian helmet. In rural areas and even big cities, civilian clothes were still the norm, and only an official badge would distinguish an officer from a civilian. Unless police officers had guns of their own, weapons were not carried.
Early 1900's Police Uniforms
By the turn of the century, United States police departments had moved toward militarization to promote a more professional workforce. American police uniforms included a button-down shirt with a necktie, dark trousers, and a military-style jacket. Officers also began wearing stiff, peaked caps to help distinguish them as public servants. Sidearms became standard issue in the early 1900s, and jackets were at first worn loosely to conceal an officer's weaponry. By the 1930s, however, police were routinely wearing Sam Brown Belts on the outside of their jackets for easier access to their personal gear.
Late 1900's Police Uniforms
In the 1960s police uniforms shifted dramatically toward more business-like wear. The, military-style attire had not helped to wipe out crime. In fact, after the Kent State Shootings and other reportings of police brutality, the divide between the police force and the communities they were serving had widened. Based on experiments at a few police departments, a more professional attire was implemented, featuring dark slacks, shirts with ties, and blazers. This change went a long way toward portraying the officers as human beings instead of brutal law enforcers.
Today's Police Uniforms
After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, another shift toward military-style uniforms occurred. Police departments all over the country received financial assistance to buy combat gear, body armor, night-vision goggles, and tactical vests. The new uniforms were similar in style to the battle dress worn previously in the U.S. army. Traditional uniforms, in either blue, black, brown, or khaki are worn for station assignments and other day-to-day operations.
Police Badges, Patches, and Insignia History
Badges have been worn in America since the days of volunteer watchmen in the 1700s. Today police officers wear metallic badges over the left side of their chests as an official symbol of their position. Badges either take the form of a five, six, or seven pointed star for county officials, or a shield-like design for municipal officers. All badges are engraved with a unique number that corresponds to the officer wearing it. In the United Kingdom, officers carry identification cards that are never on display, but can be produced when necessary. Many police uniforms also feature insignia on the shoulders in the form of cloth patches. These patches usually display the name of the police department, a logo, and sometimes an emblem recognizing the officer's rank.
Significance of Police Uniform Colors
Police uniforms can be blue, green, black, brown, or grey, but they are virtually always dark in color. There are both practical and psychological reasons for this. Dark-colored clothing disguises dirt and stains better than lighter-colored clothing and it easier to launder. Dark uniforms are also harder to see at night, perfect for those clandestine operations. According to several studies, color also has subtle influence on the community's perception of the police force. While blue is often associated with feelings of security, black can be thought of as a more aggressive color.
It's no surprise that uniforms play an important role in creating bonds between the police department and the community it is entrusted to protect. It is, and always has been, an important tool for every police department.
Police Slang And Jargon Terms
- Hinky. Troublesome, a source of consternation. If the hairs on the back of my neck started standing up about something, I might have said that I was "getting a hinky feeling about it." This could also be used as a verb - "I really got hinked up on that call." Not used on air.
- Mope. Someone who's functionally worthless; white trash. "I wish these mopes would quit milling around the square." Never used on air - reserved more for the locker room.
- Standby. Hold in place, don't act on last transmission yet. If I needed to get more information before dispatch or another officer carried out an action request, I might say, "Standby on that pending further."
- Disregard. Basically a fancy 'never mind.' "Disregard my last."
- D-Dub. Shorthand for DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) Not typically used on the radio.
- B-Dubs. Buffalo Wild Wings, a favored stop for lunch where I worked, as they stayed open later than many sit downs and waitresses were usually nice about seating you in the dining room after it had closed and gone bar only. You often got D-Dubs coming out of B-Dubs. :)
- Twist Off / Torque Off. Fly off the handle, get viscerally enraged. "My warrant arrest completely twisted off when I put the cuffs on."
- Run Code. Responding to a call with lights and sirens.
- Reduce Code. Turning your lights and sirens off and responding to a call normally. "313 we're stabilizing, any further units can reduce code."
- Blue Flamer. Rookie officer who feels like he or she has a mandate to save the world and bring all evildoers to justice. "How many car stops is that blue flamer going to make tonight?"
- J4. Fatality. Usually in the context of an accident, but used in other instances as well. This is what would be given over the radio.
- DRT. Dead Right There. This is what would not be used over the radio, and used only between officers. If someone was deceased upon first responder arrival and there was no point in attempting resuscitation or medical transport, they might be referred to as DRT.
- Dump / Splash. Take a suspect to the ground via a takedown maneuver. "He started trying to jerk away from me, so I had to splash him on the pavement."
- Squirrelly. Nervous, fidgety. Could describe a subject who's getting nervous and might try to run, or somebody on stimulants who can't stifle his or her tics. "Watch this guy - he's starting to get squirrelly on us."
- Stick. Baton - whether fixed or collapsible.
- Power Up. Shine a light in a suspect's eyes in order to disorient or distract them. "This light's strobe function will help you power somebody up." In other contexts, this could also be used as slang for using a TASER on someone.
- Light Up. Initiate a car stop by activating a patrol car's emergency lights. This, too, could alternately be used to describe TASER use.
- Street Justice. That one extra lick with a baton or extra knee strike above what was actually required to bring a suspect under control. I'm not going to pretend this never happened - but in a department where Internal Affairs performed full blown investigations on cases of discourtesy, you did this at your own peril.
- Hook. Arrest (specifically, put handcuffs on). "Go hook that guy - I've got enough PC on him."
- Good For. Probably committed the crime. "I think the boyfriend's good for it."
- Stovepipe. When a shell casing doesn't eject properly from your pistol and instead stands on end in the ejection port, causing a malfunction.
- Red P. Red phosphorus, a key component in a particular method of methamphetamine production.
- Pimping Out. Other than the standard definition, this refers to unnecessarily riling up a suspect with the intention of making them throw a punch or resist arrest, which would allow more use of force. "I wish Jones would quit pimping people out while he's on calls with me."
- Hose Draggers. Firefighters. Used in good fun. Mostly.
- Hard Striper. A formally promoted corporal or sergeant (as opposed to an officer acting as corporal or a corporal acting as sergeant).
- Scripts. Prescriptions. "That's a lot of pills. Got a script for those?"
- Flying Colors. Exhibiting gang colors, usually on your person or vehicle.
- Juvie. A juvenile subject, or the Juvenile Office.
- Hanging Paper. Writing multiple citations.
- Prowler. When used officer to officer on the in-car messaging system, a heads up that an attractive female, typically a jogger, was at the listed location; this code provided plausible deniability, as lieutenants could pull car-to-car messages for review. "Might want to check possible prowler SB at Main and First."
- Dump Light. Shine your flashlight or spotlight in a given location. "Dump some light in that corner."
- Drop Off an Item. Wink and nod radio code indicating you need to visit a bathroom before you go to the requested location. "Clear on the call dispatch; I'll be en route as soon as I drop an item off at Headquarters."
- Reality Challenged. Generally accepted politically correct way to refer to a wide range of people on the radio. This could be a reference to severe schizophrenia, limited cognition, and so on. "Clear on the call comments, dispatch; be advised that the caller is reality challenged."
- Be Advised. Succinct way of saying, "Just so you and anyone monitoring the channel is aware." "313 Dispatch, be advised that I'll be attempting contact at 123 South Main."
- In Service. Beginning tour of duty, or reentering service after having finished a call for service.
- Expedite. Upgrade response; usually a request to run lights and sirens.
- Keyholder. Someone responsible for a business, usually an owner or a manager. In the case of an audible alarm or vandalism preventing the building from being secured, I would ask dispatch to attempt contact with a keyholder.
- Beat. Area of the city worked by a particular officer.
- Cherries. Lights on top of patrol cars; usually used by veteran officers who still remember the globe-style lights they used to have.
- Slick-top. Supervisor patrol car without a lightbar on top.
- Mag. Short for pistol magazine - never, ever to be called a "clip," on pain of pushups in academy and derision on the street. "Bring all of your mags when you come to training tomorrow."
- Drop Mag. Eject the magazine from your pistol.
- Bags. Beanbag rounds, used for suspect debilitation.
- AVL. Automatic Vehicle Location; allowed dispatch to see exactly where a given patrol car was. "313 Dispatch, this street doesn't have any signage - can you pick me up on AVL?"
- Flying/Screaming. Describing something, usually a vehicle, going extremely fast. "I was sitting at Main and First, and this guy goes screaming down First right in front of me."
- Crotch Rocket. Street bike - the bane of the traffic officer's existence.
- Black and Whites. Patrol cars with a black and white paint scheme (usually in which the hood, fenders and trunk are black while the cabin is white), as opposed to a solid colored car with applied police decals.
- LVNR. Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint. I'll post a video, so long as you'll pinky swear not to do it. :) As simple as it looks, you can really gank up the sensitive structures in the neck if you do this wrong. This video comes from a police academy, and the person applying the technique is an instructor.
- This doesn't cut off air - it disrupts blood flow in a combative person. It's usually done standing, with the suspect taken off balance to the rear (on their heels). In most departments that use it, it's fairly high on the use of force continuum.
- Open Beat/Beats/Beats Plus (#). Signified staffing levels. Open beat meant you were one officer short of being able to cover each beat; that meant officers in adjacent beats had to cover significantly more area and were always busier as a result - you never wanted to hear this when you came into work, because it almost invariably meant you had a long day of work ahead. Beats meant you had just enough to cover each area, while a plus one or two meant that you had that many flex officers picking up stray calls.
- Full Boat. Whole squad's working - nobody sick or on vacation. Usually meant it was a good night for a special project (warrants, DWIs, etc.).
- Shanked. Getting stuck with something that shouldn't have been your responsibility. "Jones stayed on that traffic stop too long and shanked me with a call in his beat."
- SFSTs. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. This is the stuff you see at the side of the road - walk and turn, one leg stand, checking the eyes.
- DREs. Drug Recognition Experts. If someone was exhibiting indicators of intoxication but didn't have alcohol in their system, a DRE was called in to determine whether the impairment was caused by another drug.
- On Board. In somebody's system (in reference to a drug). "Pretty sure this guy's got some stimulants on board."
- Trip Zeros/Eggs. When someone registered a .000% BAC on a breath test checking for alcohol. "My DWI arrest blew eggs on the breath test, so I called a DRE in."
- Sōsh. Social Security Number (note the long O). Radio time is precious, so even "SSN" requires two unnecessary syllables.
- Copped to it. Admitted doing it. "He lied to me at first, but after hearing what the witnesses had to say he eventually copped to it."
- Flip. Having one suspect confess and implicate the other(s) involved in a crime. "Once he saw what the jail time was looking like, he flipped on the other two."
- Open Mic. Inadvertently engaging the key on the mic for an extended period and transmitting audio. This is bad, because on a trunked system (one not permitting simultaneous transmission), only dispatch can break through to get on air. It also brings the possibility of acute embarrassment - hundreds to thousands of people (if you count scanner monitors) will hear everything you're saying (or doing - I've heard tales of keyed mics in bathroom stalls).
- Walked On. Covering another person's transmission on the radio. "Repeat 313 - I think I walked on your transmission."
- Prelim. Preliminary hearing (in court).
- Pled Out. Accepted a plea bargain.
- Skated. A suspect getting acquitted of criminal charges, usually for a perceived technicality. "He skated on it because the victim didn't show up to testify."
- Throw Down. Get in a rough and tumble street fight or fist fight. "I rolled up on scene, and two of them were throwing down in the parking lot."
- Wants. Outstanding warrants or pickup orders issued by a judge.
- P&P. Probation and parole; if someone is on either, there will be a 'hit' on their return that must be met with a 'response' - a short summary of the reason for the contact and the disposition.
- Close/clear my last with [disposition]. Note in the system that officers are leaving the scene:
- With a report: Officer will file a police report regarding the matter)
- With citation(s): Driver was issued tickets on a traffic stop
- With a warning: Driver was issued a verbal warning on a traffic stop
- HBO (Handled By Officer): The responding officer was able to resolve the situation on scene and no formal report is necessary.
- GOA (Gone On Arrival): The officer could not locate the source of the complaint.
- Unfounded: Officer arrived, located the source of the complaint and investigated, but there is no indication a crime has occurred, or the caller's statements are unsubstantiated.
- ROA (Referred to Outside Agency): Another organization [hospital, Family Services, fire department, etc.] is taking the situation over.
- Background. Noise in your vicinity preventing you from hearing radio traffic. "313 repeat - I had background."
- The Log. Primary responsibility for a particular call. The officer with the log will write the original police report (if applicable) and is effectively in charge of the investigation and follow-up unless relieved by a superior officer. "313, close my last with a report and show me en route to that call with the log."
- Negative Contact. Radio lingo for "I couldn't find the person in question." "313, negative contact reference the caller's comments."
- Show me in. Note on the officer status screen that a particular officer is in service and available to respond to calls for service. "313, I'm no longer needed on scene, you can show me in."
- Rush/Rush Traffic. Request for priority in transmitting radio traffic; also serves as an alert to other officers. Used in the midst of an active incident, particularly when a limited number of officers are on a dynamic scene and people are leaving and/or being assaulted. "313 rush, gold four door sedan is leaving the scene southbound on Main."
- Status/Status Check. Dispatchers are subject to policies by which they must check the status of an officer on an active call - particularly car stops - after a given length of radio silence on their part. If the officer does not respond to repeated status checks, other officers will be dispatched to their location. The reason for this is that, should an officer become incapacitated or in such a state that he or she cannot transmit (for instance, in an active fight with a suspect), this ensures other units will be dispatched by default to assist after a set amount of time.
- Stable. The standard officer response to a status check. They may follow this up with something (for instance, "completing citations") to let dispatch know they're still on the call but have released the involved parties and won't need to be checked again. Conversely, depending on agency, deviation from this may indicate there's an issue but the officer is precluded from communicating openly on the radio.
- Checks/Wants on [#]; [#] to run. Notifies dispatch that the officer needs them to check the information for X number of people to see if they have warrants, active restraining orders, probation/parole or missing persons hits, and to get their driving status.
- Broken/Took You Out. Notice to another person that their radio traffic was muffled or garbled and that they need to repeat. If the culprit is known, they'll typically be told that it took them out. "313 to 214, you were broken, repeat?" "313 to 535, the wind took you out."
- Call History. A list of the dates and times police have responded to a given address. Officers would sometimes ask for call history to see what they might expect at a given address if they weren't familiar; conversely, if there was a massive call history for an address officers are being sent to, dispatch would often notify them about it upfront.