Cop Talk

Writing a novel? Have a question on police procedure? Karin can help. She shares her life — and her bed — with a retired California police officer.

Send your questions to KarinTabke @ — without spaces.

Spotlight Procedure

Interview with Amelia Kelly

Romance author Amelia Kelly had a life before she retired to pursue her writing career. She spent 20 years in the CDC (California Department of Corrections) as a corrections officer the last six years of which was a special assignment as a gang intelligence officer.

Amelia thank you so much for your time.

Q: What exactly does a corrections officer do?

A: In my last six years working gang, my primary job was to ID and classify active gang members who came through the system. I also handled in house crimes and investigations.

Q: What is the difference between a jail and prison?

A: Jails are county run and staffed. They are a short term holding facility; i.e. for criminally charged defendants awaiting trial and housed during trial. Also for anyone arrested awaiting arraignment. Jails are also used for housing convicts with short-term sentences. Nothing more than 14 mos. Half of the inmate population are felons the other half are there for misdemeanors.

Prisons are state run and staffed. All inmates are felons with sentences up to life or death. The only prison in California where executions occur is San Quentin.

Q: Who was your most notorious prisoner?

A: Carey Stayner, Yosemite killer, convicted of 4 slayings, and Richard Allen Davis, Polly Klass’ killer. Both men were model prisoners. Davis was kept out of the general populace in a protected secret cell because there was hit out on him.

We thought we were going to get Scott Peterson at one point because we have the only psych ward in the area, but were told he didn’t need it. I was told Peterson was another model prisoner.

Q: Do you book? And what is the process?

A: Yes, booking was part of the job. The process entailed info gathering (name, dob, gang affiliation, noting any significant marks, i.e. tattoo or scars) photographing and finger printing. I would inventory and store the inmate’s valuables. BTW, fingerprinting is done on the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) machine, we no longer use ink.

Q: How fun are cavity searches, and what is the most interesting item you’ve extracted.

A: We don’t do cavity searches anymore. The prisoner is taken to a nearby hospital and x-rayed. If something is detected, the doctor gets to do the dirty work. However, we do a strip search and we ask the prisoner to squat. If we see a string, we pull it out. We’ve come across many drugs that way.

Q: Has anyone ever died in prison?

A: All of the time. OD’s, medical problems, suicides (either by hanging [using sheets or underwear], or slitting wrists or throats).

Q: Do women officers guard male prisoners and vice versa?

A: Yes to both. However, while female officer to male inmates works well, the male officer to female inmate scenario isn’t as cozy. Mostly because the female inmates can be manipulative and the male officers have more of a tendency to fraternize then the female officers do with male inmates. So the ratio of female officers is higher with the female inmate population.

Conversely, the male inmates while they will trash talk both female and male officers, there is an unspoken law in CA jails among male inmates not to physically mess with female officers. It’s not out of respect for the female officer as a woman, but the fear of a male inmate getting his ass kicked by a female. Their machismo couldn’t handle it, so they steer clear.

Check in next month for the conclusion of life as a screw. Sorry Amelia, couldn’t resist.


Tech applies dust with a brush. Brush is held between thumb and index finger and rolled back and forth. Once the plane is dusted, clear tape is laid over latent print and tape is rubbed so dust with print will transfer. Tape is lifted and applied to a blank white card, exposing fingerprint.

Tech writes date/time/location and location of the print on the back of the card. Dust is charcoal gray to black.

Lingo, Euphemisms, and Codes

Graves/mids/dog watch — midnight shift, usually from 10 pm to 6 or 8 am the next morning, also 12-8

Take paper — write a police report

Scrote — short for scrotum, a fav among beat cops for whichever low life they’re taking in that night

BOLF — be on the lookout for

Blow away — to kill with firearm

Clock — to punch

Pokey — jail, prison

Cash in — to die

Chop shop — where stolen cars are stripped

Stoolie — stool pigeon. Informant or CI (confidential informant) used as a decoy by cops

Bust — arrest

Gang bang —  to gang rape, gang fight

Stiff — DOA or to cheat someone

Grift —  a trick/con

Grifter — swindler/con man

Cop a plea — to plead guilty to a lesser charge

Finger — to inform

Rap — prison sentence

Score — buying illegal drugs

Snitch — informant

IA — Internal affairs

Rat — cop who talks to IA against other cops. NYPD skull

Choir practice — party after shift, it’s usually in the city limits and secluded or at someone’s house. Alcohol is most likely the beverage of choice

DO — Desk Officer

WC — Watch Commander

Dispatch — dispatch

Sig-9mm — semi automatic (standard issue) holds 16 bullets, 15 in the magazine (not a clip) and one in the chamber. Cops do not rack a round in the chamber when they encounter a bad guy, it’s already there and they know it.

One fired bullet is referred to as a round, not a shot. Proper loading procedure is to put in a full magazine, then chamber a round into the gun, remove magazine then insert another round in the magazine

‘Wanna a cup?’ — Coffee

Start AMR — this is used in Ca, it means call an ambulance

Hook ’em up — handcuff them

Rollin’ heavy — this is lingo an officer will give dispatch when they are about to make a stop. It means the vehicle they are about to pull over is full of people

Strapped — means carrying a gun

Rolling code — lights and siren

Wig wag — one light wigs, the other wags. These are the red and blue lights on top of the vehicle

Take down lights — are the overhead spots on the light bar

Shotgun use — there is an electronic release mechanism, and the officer needs to hit a button on the box to release it. It will most likely be a 12 gauge single barrel w/ the capacity to hold 5 shells. 1 in the chamber and 4 in the magazine. When you put a shell in the chamber, it’s called ‘racking a round’

10-4 — acknowledged, it’s like saying ‘Okay’

Code 4 — I’m okay

Code 7 — Dinner

Code 8 — Start a cover-start me one

187 — homicide

5150 — crazy

415 — disturbance

415 family — family disturbance

Hit the street — going on patrol

Mocho or booger — nasty complicated report

Hook and book — handcuff and process for jail

Perp — perpetrator, bad guy, suspect, sometimes called an actor

Vic — victim

Witness — witness

FTO — Field training officer

FNG — Fucking new guy

FUBAR — F&*^%$# up beyond all recognition. FUBR also.

Cluster f%^&$ — really messed up situation

Day on the beach — one-day suspension

Land shark — Police dog

Fireman — sleep all day get paid big bucks

PC — Probable cause, which equals, probable reason to stop for witnessed or suspected criminal activity

Profiling — stopping a person based on race, sex or social ethniticity

Big House — Cops don’t say big house. They use jailer for jailer and cell for cell

Blue dick chaser — female groupie

Beat wife — sex partner on the job, usually a citizen

Detective — dick

Security guards — wannabes

Academy — 26 weeks.

Duty belt — 20-25 pounds, includes; gun and holster, 2-3 loaded magazines, 2 sets of cuffs, radio, also referred to as a Motorola, baton, keys, pepper spray. Some carry flashlights others carry it in their sap pocket (a slip down the outside of the pant leg behind the thigh below the butt.)

Sap/baton — collapsible baton. Side handle PR 24. Straight stick

Hog tied — hobbled feet and hook to hand cuffed hands behind back. Makes for a nice suitcase. Easy to pick up. Used only for combative suspects

Whitewash — Glazing over a bad situation.

Squad — the designated group of officers assigned to a specific day and shift and task

Lineup — roll call for the squad. Briefing-after line up, the squad is informed of the current status of the city and any pertinent details that may apply to that shift

PD — Police department

In house — inside the PD proper

10-10 — done, dead. “F-17 at the gate. 10-10.” His shift is over. Or a victim can be 10-10, which in this case would mean he’s dead

‘Ate his gun’ — the deceased put a gun into his mouth and shot himself

OD — overdose

Grey matter — brains

Lawyered up/ invoked — requested attorney

Welfare check — to ascertain the safety of a citizen

GPS — global positioning system

SWAT — special weapons and tactics

CSI — crime scene investigator. They do not, interview or work the investigation as a detective would. That is all Hollywood. Techs gather evidence and process it

SOP — standard operating procedure

Forensics — Where law and science meet. The study of crime and criminal behavior

Miranda — You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to be speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.

*Once you have been read your rights, you have been Mirandized

10-3 — radio silence. Ex. 10-3 on the main

11-99 — officer down

Felony / Misdemeanor / Infraction, Terms and Explanations

Felony — crime where minimum time is always prison and always one or more years

Misdemeanor — lesser crime where sentence is county jail, weekends or fine, and time is less than one year

Infraction — ticket, technically an arrest with promise to appear. Results in fine only.


Meth — methanphetamine=stimulant, aka crystal, speed, ice. A crystal creature is one who’s had a little too much for the night. Meth can be smoked, snorted or injected

Coke — cocaine=stimulant, can be snorted or injected. Rock cocaine aka rock, crack is smoked

Smack — heroine=opiate. Aka H, horse, her-on, junk, scag. White powder from China. Black tar from Mexico, aka tar heroine can be injected, only white heroine can be snorted

Pot — marijuana. Aka grass, weed, bomb, doja, bud, hooch. Rolled blunt w/paper or smoke from a pipe or bong

Hash — black hashish. Smoked

PCP — hallucinogenic=animal tranquilizer. Similar to LSD. Activates heart rate, movement is rigid, robotic, no pain is felt. Aka moon. FYI a perp on PCP will usually get severely damaged in a cop fight, because the person will feel no pain and it will take several officers to get the person cuffed, with lots of bumps and bruises along the way

Ecstasy — E, oral pill form

Speed ball — IV dose of cocaine mixed with heroine or amphetamine

Spike or Rig — hypodermic needle

Deck — packaged drugs

Rank and File

From the bottom of the feeding chain:

Patrol officer

Some departments will have Corporals



Lieutenant and WC generally have same ranking


Major (this ranking isn’t in most departments)


Deputy Chief


The CoP (Chief of Police) answers to the city manager or the mayor.


When does the FBI get involved?
When a case falls under USC Title 18 guidelines, ( or when called in by the responding local agency.

How old do you have to be to apply for special agent?
No younger than 23 and not yet 37

What other requirements are there to become a special agent?
You must be a US citizen and have a 4 year degree from an accredited college or university.

How long is the academy and where is it?
16.5 weeks. The FBI academy is located in Quantico, Virginia

Does the FBI have local or regional CSI labs?
No, everything goes to the federal lab in Quantico unless a local agency is also involved. In that case, under certain circumstances they will use the local lab. However, all evidence for federal cases must go through Quantico.

What is the standard firearm issue?
22 Glock .40 caliber (it holds 16 rounds).

FBI pecking order
From the bottom to the top. (I haven’t gone into all of the special assignments SA’s can be assigned to, as in ERT Evidence Recovery technician, SWAT or others.)

Rookies come in as a NAT, New Agent Trainee. After graduation, you are an SA, Special Agent. You report to your squad leader, the SSA Supervisory Special Agent, who usually reports, in the program, to ASAC, or Assistant Special Agent in Charge, pronounced A-Sack. The ASAC reports to the SAC, Special Agent in Charge, pronounced S-A-See. The big banana is the Director.

Courtroom Personnel and Terms


The players: Presiding over the room and trial is the judge. 12 jurors and depending on the size and length of the case, anywhere from 2 to 6 alternate jurors. 1 stenographer, whose job it is to document verbatim all case dialogue. 1 bailiff whose job it is to maintain order in the courtroom and present if necessary, documents or evidence to the judge or jurors. If it’s a criminal case there are representatives from the DA’s office (District Attorney) usually an ADA (Assistant District Attorney or DDA Deputy District Attorney) who will prosecute on behalf of the state/city or county. The defense attorney is a private attorney hired to get the defendant off. If it is a civil case (no crime committed) then there is a private defense attorney who is hired to defend his client against the prosecuting attorney who is hired by the person who wishes to sue the defendant. In civil as well as criminal trials, the defendant’s can agree to no jury and allow the judge to rule

Court appointed attorney: when you can’t afford your own, public defender’s office.

Court terms:

Double jeopardy cannot be tried twice for the same crime when a verdict is reached the first time

Conviction guilty/innocent

Hung jury cannot come to a verdict

Mistrialtrial ends on a technicality and can be retried at DA’s discretion. Suspect is held in jail until new trail

Acquittalcharges dropped, cannot be retried


Paroleearly release from prison. Violation of terms puts you right back inside. Held min of 30 days in county until hearing

Cops are Funny, too: Alleged Cop Comments

“If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired.”

Check back periodically for a new alleged comment.

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