Why are Police Officers called COPS? | Garmont Tactical (2023)

The use of these monikers varies throughout different regions in the US. But by far, the most common and oldest nickname given to police officers is “cop.” “Cop” is a name used so frequently and widely in the US, that it has become synonymous with “police” in the dictionary and is even used by law enforcement officers themselves.

Theories on why police are called “cops”

Like most slang, it’s impossible to trace the exact origins of the word “cops” being used to describe law enforcement, but there are a great many inaccurate theories. Here are two of our favorites:

  • Constable on Patrol

This theory says that “cop” is actually an abbreviation of “constable on patrol.” This theory is an interesting use of shorthand; however, it is unlikely to be true because very few words in our current lexicon derive from acronyms. Additionally, “constable” is not a common title for a law enforcement officer in the US and is therefore unlikely to be the origin.

  • Copper Buttons and Badges

This theory says that “cop” derives from “copper” which was given as a nickname to police because of their shiny copper badges and buttons on their uniforms. As fun as this origin is, this is also unlikely to be true. There is little evidence that copper was widely used in police uniforms. It is actually more likely that this story came about after the fact, as a way of explaining the use of the moniker “copper.”

Why are Police Officers called COPS? | Garmont Tactical (1)

Origin of the word “cop”: the truth behind

While the theories above are fun and interesting, the truth of the matter is that “cop” in reference to police officers, actually developed from the verb usage of “cop” meaning “to take or seize".

“Cop” was first used in place of “to arrest” around 1844. The phrase quickly took hold, and as being “copped” began to be synonymous with being arrested, the word usage expanded to include the person doing the arresting, the “copp-er.” By 1846, police officers were being called “coppers” in everyday conversation. By 1859, “copper” had been shortened, ironically back to the original word “cop,” as law enforcement officers continue to be called to this day.

The Fuzz and 5-0: how they become popular

So, what about the other nicknames for police? How did “the fuzz” and “5-0” become popular?

The Fuzz

There is no clear origin for the nickname “the fuzz,” which became popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, though there are several theories. One theory is that “fuzz” may come from the sound of static over police radios. It may have also come from across the pond, where British police officers are known to wear somewhat fuzzy hats. Alternatively, it could be related to the short and fuzzy haircuts new officers have upon graduation from police academy. Or it could be a odd way of abbreviating “the force", as in police force.


“5-0” (pronounced five-oh) became a popular nickname after the television show Hawaii Five-O which aired from 1968 to 1980. “Five-o” referred to the Hawaiian police force in the show, based on Hawaii being the fiftieth state to join the union. Though inaccurate, as Hawaiian police officers in real life have no such designation, the nickname became popular among fans and is still used to refer to police across the country to this day.

The Heat

This moniker does not have a clear origin. It may refer to the red flashing lights on police cars, or the metaphorical “heat” or pressure applied by police when interrogating suspects. “Heat” is also a common nickname for guns in the US, so the term may derive from the fact that police are often armed.

Boys in Blue

This nickname comes from classic police uniforms, which were usually navy blue. While uniform colors vary these days, the term “blue” has stuck around.

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Older nicknames for police in the US

Though these have fallen out of fashion, there have been plenty of other nicknames used for police throughout American history. Here are a few interesting ones:

  • Gumshoe

This was often used in reference to detectives who have to work stealthily to solve crimes. In the 19th century, gum rubber became popular to use on the bottoms of soft-soled shoes. The design of these shoes had a side-effect of making the wearer’s steps very quiet, so they were able to sneak around easily, which is where the nickname comes from.

  • Smokey

Smokey the Bear is a decades-old symbol used by the US Forest Service to encourage people to prevent wildfires, still familiar to most Americans today. But what some might not know is that “Smokey” was formerly used as a nickname for law enforcement officers because their uniform hats closely resembled the ones worn by Smokey the Bear! The film, Smokey and the Bandit, released in 1977, includes the slang term for police in its title, and increased the nickname’s use for a period of time.

  • The Man

“The Man” is a more general term that originated out of the free-spirited movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and referenced any authority figure, especially those related to the government. While not just referring to police, “the man” was anyone in a position of power over the public. This phrase has died down in popularity, but it still gets used today!

Nicknames for police around the world

It’s not just in the United States that police have been given some interesting nicknames, but worldwide. Here are three interesting monikers from across the globe:

  • Bobbies – UK

The UK slang term “bobbies” comes from the founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel. Peel founded the London police in 1829, and they were quickly called “bobbies” after his own nickname, “Bob.” You might also hear them called “peelers” for the same reason!

  • Mounties - Canada

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is well-known worldwide for its policemen who patrol “mounted” on horseback. Though police in Canada do not routinely ride horseback anymore, they are still often called “mounties.”

  • Pikachu – Vietnam

This nickname comes from the yellow uniform that traffic police in Vietnam have, which people think makes them look like the popular cartoon character “Pikachu” from the Pokémon show and video games.

Why are Police Officers called COPS? | Garmont Tactical (3)

Garmont’s T8 LE 2.0 Boot

Regardless of what you call them, at Garmont we understand the difficult and important work that police officers do, which is why we created shoes designed specifically for their needs.

Our T8 LE 2.0 is a lightweight boot designed to provide all-day comfort and maneuverability, whether at the station, patrolling, or at an emergency scene. This 8-inch boot has polishable full grain leather, a side-zipper for easy on-and-off, as well as closed eyelets and a Velcro strap over the zipper to ensure that everything remains snag-proof. With the T8 LE 2.0 you can feel confident that your feet are protected and supported, no matter the situation.



Why are Police Officers called COPS? | Garmont Tactical? ›

This theory says that “cop” derives from “copper” which was given as a nickname to police because of their shiny copper badges and buttons on their uniforms.

What is a tactical police officer? ›

A police tactical unit (PTU) is a specialized police unit trained and equipped to handle situations that are beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement units because of the level of violence (or risk of violence) involved.

Why are cops called fuzz? ›

What is the origin of "the fuzz" (meaning police)? It's just a jocular mispronunciation of "the force" - as in the police force, rather than "the force be with you".

What is the slang word for police officers? ›

Popo/Po-Po. The term popo, sometimes written as po-po, is slang for law enforcement personnel that's believed to have originated in the United States in the mid-1990s.

What does the acronym cop stand for? ›

informal. : police officer. They called the cops to report a robbery.

What rank is tactical officer? ›

Tactical Officers are usually of the rank of Lieutenant or above.

What is tactical vs strategic police? ›

The purpose of strategic crime analysis is to perform police service more effectively and efficiently by matching service delivery to demands for service. Tactical crime analysis deals with immediate criminal offenses (immediate, hours, days, or weeks from the time of the crime).

Why are cops called five 0? ›

5-0. “5-0” (pronounced five-oh) became a popular nickname after the television show Hawaii Five-O which aired from 1968 to 1980. “Five-o” referred to the Hawaiian police force in the show, based on Hawaii being the fiftieth state to join the union.

Why do cops touch the hood? ›

By doing so, they ensure that the trunk is closed and that no one will jump out of it. But the action goes one step further: it is meant to ensure the officer's own safety. Touching the trunk in a defined area leaves their fingerprints on the car. If they were to be attacked, the vehicle could be linked with the crime.

Why does 12 mean police? ›

One common explanation is that the phrase originated from the police radio code system 10-12, which indicates that civilians are present in the area where police officers are patrolling. This system was developed in the 1930s and was designed to help standardize radio communications between police officers.

What do British people call cops? ›

Answer and Explanation: The British often call police officers 'bobbies. ' This comes from Sir Robert Peel, since the nickname for 'Robert' is 'Bobby. ' Early on, the first police were also known as 'Peelers,' which also comes from Sir Robert Peel's name.

What does 12 mean in slang? ›

12 is a slang term for police or any law enforcement officials of uncertain origin. Possible sources include the police radio code "10-12" and the 1968 TV show Adam-12, which followed two Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers and their patrol car, "1-Adam-12."

What is a Johnny law? ›

(US, slang) A police officer.

What does COP27 stand for? ›

On 20 November, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), that took place in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh, concluded with a historic decision to establish and operationalize a loss and damage fund.

What does COP tomorrow mean? ›

It's used in business communications to set a deadline for a task to be completed by 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST). COB can be used interchangeably with end of business (EOB), end of day (EOD), end of play (EOP), close of play (COP), and close of business (COB).

What is COP vs police? ›

Police is plural, cop is singular, but they mean the same thing-- except that cop is less polite.

Does military rank outrank police? ›

police are a para military force that is trained in domestic law and tactics to enforce them. They have powers of arrest over everyone in the jurisdiction Where they are employed including military personnel. in the case of martial law it wouldn't be a matter of one out ranking the other.

What is the highest officer in combat? ›

The highest military rank is O-10, or "five-star general." It is symbolized by five stars for each of the military services.

What does LT Col stand for? ›

lieutenant colonel. noun. : a military commissioned officer with a rank just below that of colonel.

What are the 3 levels of warfare? ›

The three levels of warfare—strategic, operational, and tactical—link tactical actions to achievement of national objectives.

What is tactical enforcement? ›

Targeting serious and high impact crime. The Tactical Enforcement Unit (TEU) is a proactive police unit, working to tackle the critical issues which directly impact our communities – from burglars to organised crime groups.

What is a tactical level? ›

The tactical level is a middle management stage where activities and actions are developed to support a company's strategy. An essential question for the leaders at this level is, " What activities and projects to be planned in strategic alignment?" The operation level is for the short-term.

Why do police say 10 5? ›

10-5 = Relay this information to (name of a person, officer, etc.) 10-36 = What is the correct time of day? 10-42 = End of watch. Mainly, Police departments use the end-of-watch signal when an officer passes away.

Does 13 mean cops? ›

Procedure: An officer in distress will transmit Signal 13. This message will be given the highest priority.

Do cops say 10 4? ›

Ten-codes, especially "10-4" (meaning "understood") first reached public recognition in the mid- to late-1950s through the popular television series Highway Patrol, with Broderick Crawford. Crawford would reach into his patrol car to use the microphone to answer a call and precede his response with "10-4".

Why do cops hold their vests? ›

The vest hang: A natural transition from the pit tuck, the vest hang is clasping the top of the vest near their collarbones to keep arms from hitting the equipment on the duty belt. The crossed arms: This can look intimidating, but cops use this stance solely for comfort. It's also a great way to warm up on a cold day.

Why you should not let cops touch your tail lights? ›

Touching the tail light could put the officer right behind the vehicle, which would put them at risk of being hurt if the driver puts the car in reverse. As morbid as it sounds, these things happen, and officers must always be prepared for the worst as they approach any vehicle.

Why do cops put their finger on your car? ›

Essentially, it is an officer safety thing. It is leaving the evidence in case the person harms the officer and flees the scene. Basically, it is giving police officers in the future the ability to lift prints off that vehicle and trace them back to that officer that pulled the vehicle over.

What does 44 mean in cop? ›

10-43In Pursuit
10-45Bomb Threat
10-45Bank Alarm
75 more rows
Sep 26, 2016

What does 11 45 mean in police? ›

11-45 = Suicide / attempted suicide.

What does 10-12 mean in police code? ›

10-12 Visitors are present (be discrete). 10-13 Advise weather and road conditions. 10-14 Citizen holding suspect. 10-15 Prisoner in custody. 10-16 Pick up prisoner.

Why are policemen called pigs? ›

According to National Public Radio's A Way With Words, its first use was a general derogatory term for anyone who is disagreeable, overweight or taking more than their share. In 1874, a slang dictionary published in London listed the definition of pig as “a policeman, an informer.

What does pig mean in slang? ›

: a dirty, gluttonous, or repulsive person.

What do Gypsies call police? ›

Gavver. Gavver is another word to describe police officers, and it comes from the Romany Gypsy word 'garav' which means hide.

What is slang 69? ›

69ing, or doing 69, is sharing oral sex with your partner; in other words, it's giving and receiving oral sex at the same time. Oral sex is when people use their mouths to stimulate another person's genitals.

What is 1111 slang? ›

People also use 11:11 on social media to indicate they are making a wish, whether it be of seeing more cat pictures or seeing a close friend again. Sometimes people list out loved ones with 11:11, the number serving as a kind of talisman.

What does woke mean in slang? ›

Woke is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination".

What does wear a Johnny mean? ›

: a short-sleeved collarless gown with an opening in the back for wear by persons (as hospital patients) undergoing medical examination or treatment.

What is a Johnny in America? ›

1. ( often capital) informal. a man or boy; chap. 2. a slang word for condom.

What is a Johnny Foreigner slang? ›

Likewise, the derogatory British-English expression Johnny Foreigner (also Johnny foreigner and johnny foreigner) is used: – to denote a person from a country other than those which make up the United Kingdom; – to personify people from a country other than those which make up the United Kingdom.

What does a tactical action officer do? ›

The TAO performs the primary evaluation in CIC and is responsible for the tactical employment and defense of the ship through the safe and effective operation of the ship's combat systems. c. Officers qualified as TAO will always be designated in writing by the CO and will usually be given weapons release authority.

What are the duties of a tactical security officer? ›

Tactical Security Officer

Protects evidence or scene of incident in the event of accidents, emergencies, or security investigations. Ability to use computer systems.

What do tactical operations do? ›

A tactical operations center (TOC) is a command post for police, paramilitary, or military operations. A TOC usually includes a small group of specially trained officers or military personnel who guide members of an active tactical element during a mission.

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