English Police Vocabulary

While no one wants to find themselves in a serious situation with law enforcement, learning a variety of police vocabulary is a smart idea so that you are prepared if you should encounter police even in minor circumstances, like getting a traffic ticket. Using Drew's ESL lessons will help you to speak and comprehend police terminology and understand your rights in any situation.

To get busted

To get caught by a law enforcement officer for breaking the law.

“This guy got busted for stealing. The cops dragged him away.

To have a record

If you have been arrested before the police will have files on what it was you were arrested for. This is called having a record.

“Since I have a record I have trouble finding work. Nobody wants to hire a criminal, even if he has cleaned up.”


To take downtown

Police stations are usually located downtown. If an officer says that he’s taking you downtown it means that you are going to jail.

“They informed my brother that they were going to take him downtown. He was arrested for public intoxication.”


To have a warrant out

A police officer will ask if you have any warrants out for your arrest. This is an official document that says that you are to be arrested for a previously committed crime.

“If you have a warrant out you should be careful not to get pulled over for speeding. The cops will take you downtown when they find out.”


To post bail

When a person gets arrested he can pay a certain amount of money, decided on by the judge, to get out of jail until his trial.

“If you can’t post bail you’ll be sleeping in jail tonight. I would call a friend to get you out of here!”


To bail out

A friend, family member or a lawyer can come to the jail and pay the bail money to get that person out of jail. This is called “bailing out”.

“His parents had to bail him out of jail after he got arrested for driving drunk. How embarrassing!”


To book someone for a crime

If a policeman decides to charge you for the crime you committed this can be called booking.

“He decided to book me for public intoxication since I started arguing with him. Lesson learned. Don’t argue with a cop that may let you go!”


To crack down on

When the local police are making a point of finding people breaking a specific crime it can be stated that they are “cracking down” on this crime.

“Be careful when you drive by the school on Elm Street. The cops are cracking down on speeders in that area.


To be crawling with cops

If a particular area has many police officers walking about, for whatever reason, it is said to be “crawling with cops”.

“Don’t break any laws downtown at the block party tonight. The whole area will be crawling with cops.”


To throw the book at

If a judge decides to give you the maximum penalty for the crime that you committed then he is “throwing the book” at you.

“Be respectful of the judge, or he will throw the book at you.”


An ex-con

This is a person who was arrested and served time in jail for a crime. He is now out, but still has a record.

“My uncle won’t hire ex-cons because he thinks they will steal from him.”


Plead the fifth

By United States law, if you are arrested and asked questions about the crime from a law enforcement officer, you have the right to remain silent and not answer anything. This is called “pleading the fifth.”

“My lawyer advised me to plead the fifth if was questioned about the murder.”


To do time

If you spent any time in prison you are said to have “done” time.

“He did some time for robbing the convenient store down the street. Luckily that time scared him into being a good citizen and staying away from trouble.”


To hold up

If a criminal pulls a gun out at a cashier of a small store or bank it is called “holding up”.

“Two men held up the liquor store down the street. They got away with $300 and a pack of cigarettes.”


To rat on

If a person is arrested for a crime that he committed with other people he may be asked to tell what these other people did in terms of executing the crime. This is called “ratting” on a friend.

“They caught one of the kids in the gang that was vandalizing cars. After a couple of hours of threats and questions the detectives got him to rat on the other gang members.”


The fuzz

This is a slang word for police police officer.

“The fuzz is everywhere. I wish they’d leave me alone!”

Practice Exercises

  • Police Vocabulary Listening Exercise
  • Police Vocabulary Fill in the Blanks
  • Police Vocabulary Word Order
  • Police Fill in the Blanks
  • Police Matching