Why Are Police Referred to as ’12’? : Meaning and Reasons for the Nickname

The modern police force has a complex history, but one pivotal moment is often traced back to Sir Robert Peel, who is considered the father of modern policing. In 1829, Peel, then the Home Secretary of England, introduced the Metropolitan Police Service in London.

This marked the beginning of a structured and organized police force with the primary goal of crime prevention and maintaining public order. The idea of a police force spread globally, adapting to the needs and contexts of different nations. In the 19th century, the United States evolved the concept of policing, drawing influence from English and colonial practices.

Since then, people have given the police force various names, with one widely used slang term being 12. In this article, we discuss the meaning of the slang 12, the reasons why they are called 12, and more.

What is the meaning of 12?

The slang term “12” is often used to refer to law enforcement, specifically the police. It is used in certain urban communities in the United States, most commonly in Atlanta, Georgia. The slang has become a widely recognized way to refer to the cops by individuals with either derogatory undertones, neutral or even friendly context.

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When someone says “12,” it typically means that the police are nearby or that law enforcement officers are present. In this case, “12” has become part of the slang in certain communities as a way to communicate about the presence of law enforcement without explicitly stating it.

Why are police called 12? 

The origin of calling the police “12” in slang is still unclear, but it is believed to have originated in urban communities in the United States. Several theories attempt to explain the term’s origin:

  • Police Radio Code: Some suggest that “12” may be linked to police radio codes 10–12, which represent’stand’by’ or ‘wait’. This slang originated in the 1960s and 1970s, and people have been using it to alert themselves to the presence of cops ever since.
  • Numerical Representation: Another theory proposes that “12” is a numerical representation of the word “police.” This interpretation suggests that the use of numbers provides a coded language to discreetly refer to law enforcement.
  • Community Slang Evolution: Slang often evolves organically within communities, and the use of “12” may simply be a linguistic development without a specific numerical or coded origin.
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When did the police become 12?

Although the slang term for cops, doesn’t have a specific origin date, it is known to have started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The term gained rapid popularity and found its way into popular culture, being featured in movies, TV shows, and songs.


Why are the police called Five-O?

The term 5-O gained popularity through the television show “Hawaii Five-O,” which was on air from 1968 to 1980. The show featured fictional Hawaiian police officers, and the term may have been adopted from the show as a way to refer to cops.

What slang are the police called?

Various slang terms are used to refer to police officers. Some common slang terms for police officers include:

  • Cops
  • The Law
  • The Fuzz 
  • The Boys in Blue
  • Po-po
  • The Badge
  • The Authorities
  • The Thin Blue Line
  • 12
  • Five-O
  • Bobbies
  • Coppers 

What do the  6 letters in police mean?

“POLICE” simply means law enforcement officers. However, its acronym 

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P: Polite, O: Observant, L: Loyal, I: Intelligent, C: Courageous, E: Efficient, is sometimes used in a positive context to describe desirable qualities in police officers.

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