police-phonetic-alphabet

Police And Military Phonetic Alphabet Codes Language Of Leos

Criminal Justice Journal

Police And Military Phonetic Alphabet Codes Language Of Leos

Police Phonetic Alphabet Codes

A large part of a Law enforcement Officers job consists of communication – that could be with dispatch, fellow officers, or interagency communication. To simplify this process, the phonetic alphabet is used.

The Police Phonetic alphabet is designed for Leo’s communicating over the radio to pronounce, hear and understand the letters and numbers being said from the other side despite the signal quality.

The United States police alphabet (APCO) is argued to be even more concise than the code used by the military. It is useful for communicating information like Names, Area Codes, and License Plates clearly over the radio.

Where Does The Police Phonetic Alphabet Come From?

The police alphabet that is used by criminal justice officers today is essentially derived from the 1956 ICAO phonetic alphabet used by NATO-affiliated military organizations.

The development of the police alphabet began when The APCO proposed that its Procedure and Signals Committee should systemize a “standard set of words,” representing the alphabet and being used by all stations.

The list’s formation used the results of questionnaires sent out to all zone and inter-zone Police radio stations. Using suggestions from the questionnaire and pre-existing lists such as the western union word list and a list already in use by several police stations, a final list of words was created.

Even after the more centralized NATO alphabet came into prevalent use, local and state police departments continued to use the APCO police alphabet to convey critical information such as Names, Area Codes, and License Plates clearly over the radio.

The police alphabet is often favored over the military alphabet due to being shorter and, therefore, more concise, allowing for rapid and exact communication. Some departments use a different alphabet to make them distinct from the military.

For example, some department’s officers reduce extra syllables by saying:

  • Young instead of Yankee
  • Ida instead of India
  • Nora instead of November

The Apco has now been adopted across many different police departments in other states and cities.

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Military vs. Police Phonetic Alphabet

The military alphabet, also known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, Comprises 26 distinct code words that do not sound alike. Each codeword represents a single letter of the English alphabet and is essentially used to spell out phrases and words. For instance, “Alpha” means “A,” “Bravo,” which stands for B. Code words are combined forming words. E.g., if you want to say the word “cat,” would say the code “Charlie-Alpha-Tango.” It has been ensured that all 26 codewords sound different, minimizing communication errors.

Below is a list containing the letters and the words they correspond to can be found below.

law-enforcement-alphabet

 

The earliest versions of the military alphabet were used during world war one. Pilots had to coordinate attacks with ground control; however, low radio signal and interference led to communication errors. As a result of this, code words were used to represent letters that sound similar. 

This concise language led to troops being able to communicate both more efficiently and covertly.

From 1957, the U.S. Army and NATO placed an alphabet used universally in militaristic situations, known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA), or the NATO Phonetic Alphabet for short. This language was developed after several years of research and testing. Most importantly, all the code was tested in different dialects to make sure messages could be understood regardless of accent or dialect. This newly developed code also served as the origin for the Police alphabet used by Law enforcement officers.

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Currently, this code is referred to as the “Military Alphabet.”

The military alphabet is often referred to as a phonetic alphabet. However, this is not strictly accurate. Unlike The International Phonetic Alphabet, the Military Alphabet does not indicate the phonetics of its code. The Military Alphabet is referred to as a “spelling alphabet,” and is used only to spell out words leading to clear communication.

Phonetic alphabets such as the police alphabet use symbols to communicate. This is different from the Military Alphabet, which is designed for oral communication. 

The Military Alphabet flattens simplifies a language allowing users to communicate efficiently.

Those who are serving in the military use the “Alpha Bravo Charlie” alphabet as a form of shorthand or slang. Some popular expressions include:

Oscar-Mike (“on the move”): a unit is moving between positions

Charlie Mike (“continue mission”): a mission will continue following an interruption

Tango Delta (“target down”): the enemy was eliminated

Lima Charlie (“loud and clear”): confirmation of received instructions

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Why Is The Police Alphabet Used?

Over the radio, a speaker saying the letter ‘E’, could be misheard by the other party due to a low radio signal. Leaving them to wonder whether the letter said was ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ’D,’ ‘G,’ ‘P,’ ‘T,’ ‘V,’ or ‘Z.’ The obvious course of action for someone unsure of what was said is to ask the speaker to repeat themselves however this costs valuable time which may be of the essence in law enforcement situations such as a police chase.

The police alphabet is used to avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings between the individuals communicating over the radio channel. For example, an officer reporting a suspicious vehicle may have to quote the vehicle’s license plate. If the license plate is “ABC-123” the officer would say, “Adam, Boy, Charles, 1, 2, 3”. This ensures greater clarity of the message being sent to the person on the other end of the radio transmission.

Some areas share scanner traffic between agencies, which means that multiple units are listening in at any given time. However, since the only person can speak at a time, the channel must be kept clear if something urgent happens.

Even though spelling things out using the police alphabet may take slightly longer than regular letters, it’s still more likely to reduce radio chatter by eliminating the need to repeat messages.

Police departments generally use a mixture of plain English, 10 codes, and the phonetic alphabet to keep messages and communication over the radio as brief as possible.

law-enforcement-phonetic-alphabet

Is the police alphabet the same everywhere?

Police codes are meant to be similar enough that officers who transfer positions across the country will be able to understand them. Of course, there are some differences between departments.

LAPD will say, “Edward;” NYPD will say, “Eddie.”

 LAPD will say, “Lincoln;” NYPD will say, “Larry.”

 LAPD says Paul, NYPD says Peter. 

There is also Tom versus Thomas, and Young versus Yellow.

Law Enforcement 10 Code System

The 10 code system is another popular code used by Law enforcement officers. 10 codes such as “10-4” (“Affirmative”) are recognized everywhere; police radio codes can vary quite a bit between different areas. Depending on the area, a 10-33 police code could mean spotting a traffic backup or seeing a downed officer – two significantly different situations that should not be confused.

The problem with having a nonstandard radio code system is that responding to large-scale events like natural disasters or mass-shootings requires teamwork between several agencies. During these incidents, Law enforcement officers must communicate clearly with dispatch, fire, and EMS while eliminating as much confusion and radio chatter as possible.

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