The computer message between cops on the streets of Los Angeles was short and to the point: One officer said he planned to “kick” a suspect when he got back to the station.
He wasn’t suggesting violence, though--just communicating in the esoteric language of the Los Angeles Police Department. Indeed, the “kicking” was a good thing for the suspect--it meant he would be “kicked loose,” released from custody.
And how do some cops describe the condition of a traffic victim who is near death?
“Circling the drain.”
It’s all part of the LAPD’s “copspeak,” a language unique even by law enforcement standards, a hybrid of street slang, military terms and mordant usages passed on through generations--and easy for outsiders to misunderstand.
“When I came out here and took a test, they asked me what a ‘211' was, or a ‘459,’ ” said Lt. Nick Zingo, who came to the department from Detroit in 1975, where police did not use penal code sections as shorthand for crimes. “I really thought they were joking. These guys sound just like Jack Webb or Adam-12.”
Zingo failed the test the first time, but quickly learned the LAPD wasn’t kidding. If he wanted to work there, he was going to have to learn to talk the way cops talk on TV--because TV writers get that stuff from studying the LAPD.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Zingo can explain why you will get a room at the Gray Bar Motel for a G-ride. And thank your lucky stars that you didn’t have a gimme and they didn’t break out the tube.
A “gimme” is a pistol--because they’re often seen in the hands of somebody saying “gimme your money.” And “the tube” is a police shotgun.
Richard Kalk, a former police officer and founder of the LAPD Historical Society, says many terms and phrases have been coined since he began his career in 1960.
Parker Center in Downtown Los Angeles was dubbed “the Glass House” by those who wound up there under arrest, and the nickname found its way into copspeak.
The term “Gray Bar Motel” was the name for the old Lincoln Heights station house, Kalk said.
“I never worked at that station, but I did check in a couple of guests at the motel,” Kalk laughed. These days, the Gray Bar Motel is a synonym for “the bucket,” which means jail.
The terms used to describe police equipment and services differ from agency to agency.
In the San Francisco Police Department, for instance, a shotgun is called “the gauge,” explained Officer Phil Lee, who is assigned to that city’s Mission Division.
And when Lee arrests someone, they don’t check into the Gray Bar but make a little visit to the “company,” he said. In San Francisco, traffic tickets are referred to as “tags.” In Los Angeles, they are known as “greenies,” after the color of the copy of the citation that the officer keeps.
Within the department, various divisions have different names for the same crimes. Other phrases, confined to a single division, describe wardrobe or conflicts with the boss, or have double meanings for officers who work special duties.
Sgt. Andy Voge, an eight-year officer assigned to the Van Nuys station, said that when he worked at the 77th Street Division, a stolen car was most often called a “G-ride,” but in the Valley, the common expression is a “hot roller.”
“You have to know the codes and you have to know those words and phrases because they are part of our language,” Voge said. There are drawbacks, he noted. “You sometimes have trouble (communicating) when you have to deal with other agencies.”
LAPD’s Metro Division is considered an elite detail, a fact not lost on those from other divisions. Fittingly, there is a clothing ensemble named after the unit.
A “Metro Tux” is an outfit worn by Metro officers who visit the bar at the training academy on Wednesday night--payday for cops. It is simple garb, consisting of a white T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up or tightened to accentuate the biceps, dark blue uniform pants and black patent leather shoes.
“It’s what they wear when they’re on the make,” looking for female cadets, officers or guests, said one female officer.
Capt. Paul Lewallen, who heads the unit, says the “tux” is popular only because officers in uniform cannot drink, but removing the uniform shirt clears the way for them to hoist a glass.
“It’s the only way the guys can have a beer after work, but others say it’s because they are too cheap to buy a real tuxedo,” Lewallen said.
Another Metro Division expression is the notion of being “in the biz bag,” which somehow translates into an officer in the doghouse with management.
“I think I’ve been there a couple of times,” said one officer.
Members of the LAPD’s Mounted Unit, which is under the administrative control of the Metro Division, transfer words they use to describe their mounts to mean different things for suspects.
“When a horse is excited, we say he is ‘on the muscle,’ ” explained Lt. Earl Paysinger. “We use the same term to describe a suspect who seems hyperactive.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Examples of ‘Copspeak’
Hot shot--shots fired, emergency call * Hot prowl--a prowler in an occupied home * Hot roller--stolen car on the move * G-ride--grand theft auto The tube--shotgun Hookin’ ‘n’ bookin'--handcuffing and arresting Having a tail--being on probation Jacket--a criminal record Duis (pronounced deuce)--a drunk-driving charge SOS--stuck on stupid Metro tux--white T-shirt, dark blue uniform pants On the muscle--said of a nervous suspect Glass House--Parker Center headquarters Gray Bar Motel--jail The bucket--jail Bridal suite--police station room where officers who work late can nap Gimme--a handgun, refers to robbers’ demand: “Gimme this, gimme that” Kick ‘em--to release a suspect Greenies--traffic tickets In the biz bag--in trouble with a supervisor * Any term that begins with “hot” denotes immediate response