Street cops frequently are required to explain their observation of criminal activity and justify their actions. Sadly, this is very true because cops are overly scrutinized today. Oftentimes, they will have to explain the actions taken by criminals during the commission of a crime, suspects who resist arrest and a myriad of other situations.

Many of these situations may end up in court, at a departmental or civil proceeding. Most street cops know what words and phrases are acceptable for their agency’s reporting systems. However, many still do not adequately articulate their observations and actions for the media and average citizen to understand.

Prosecutors, judges and jurors are increasingly questioning police reports and the officer’s use of ‘cop talk’ or organizational jargon which fails to paint a picture for the eventual audience.

Words like ‘combative’ and ‘furtive’ are confusing and are limited in their explanation of a suspect’s actions.  Phrases like ‘refused to be handcuffed’ and ‘suspicious behavior’ leave much open to interpretation. They can especially be a problem when they are interpreted by someone sympathetic to a defendant – like the defense attorney or a juror who doesn’t like cops.

I am offering a more effective and accurate way of articulating actions and incidents, verbally and in writing. This simple chart lists typical ‘cop talk’ used by law enforcement officers everywhere, along with a more descriptive and effective articulation that is suited to the general public.


Cop Talk  Definition Articulation Examples
Aggressive Likely to attack; Showing a readiness to attack or do harm.

Describe the body language and/or statements made.  “He clenched his fists.”  “He got into a bladed stance like he was going to fight.”  He shouted, “you can’t arrest me by yourself!”



Attempt to cause physical injury and may have caused physical injury.  Also places someone in fear of injury.


Describe the behavior and specify any verbal threats made.  Describe the person’s body positioning, his appearance, etc… He said to me, “I’m going to mess you up!” “He got into a boxer’s stance. “She clenched her fists”.  Use descriptive action words like lunged, ran at me, swinging his fists, threw a punch, etc…








Hostile or aggressive; Ready to start a fight. Describe the belligerent behavior.  “The suspect clenched his fists.”  “He pounded his chest and stepped toward me”  “I asked him to stand still and he started pacing back and forth with an angry look on his face.”
Combative Arguing or ready to fight; Explain how the person is combative or arguing to the point of aggressiveness and anger. “He was flailing his arms to fight me off and keep me from controlling him.”  “He pushed me away.”  “He shouted at me to mind my own business.”  “His body tensed up like he was ready to fight.”
Disorderly Unruly; Disturbing the peace or violating public order; Causing pedestrians to become alarmed or frightened.

Describe the way the disorderly person is acting and, when applicable, the way his behavior negatively affects pedestrians or people nearby.  “He was shouting and waving his arms causing people nearby to turn around and walk away quickly.”  “His actions seemed to frighten the children in the park who ran quickly to their parents.”


Drug prone location


A place, such as a street, corner building or any location that is prone to drug dealing, drug abuse or congregating by drug dealers or drug abusers.

Explain why the place is a drug-prone location.  “Several drug arrests have been made at this location.”  “We have received numerous 911 calls for drug activity at this address!”  “There have been two overdose victims found at this location in the last few days.”  “The Narcotics unit has executed several search warrants in this building.”


Effected Arrest


To make an arrest of someone; To physically arrest a person. In this case, it is more appropriately explained as:  “I placed him under arrest.”  “I made an arrest of the suspect named on the complaint report.” “I arrested him for the charges of ____.”

Emotionally Disturbed Person (EDP)


Seriously distraught or emotional to the point of being impaired, suicidal or violent. Explain the person’s behavior and appearance that caused you to believe he was an emotionally disturbed person.  “He was shouting in a way that I could not understand him while crying and laughing.”  “He was talking to himself and ignoring my orders to refrain from moving.”  “He was walking naked in the cold while only wearing shoes and a hat.”  “He seemed incoherent.”



Excited Delirium (ED)



Excited Delirium (ED) can be displayed as a combination of delirious behavior, anxiety, disorientation, paranoia, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, extreme strength or endurance, hyper-aggression, Tachycardia (elevated heart rate), hallucinations, incoherent speech or shouting, and Hyperthermia (overheating) or  profuse sweating (even in cold weather).


Describe the behaviors of the person displaying excited delirium. “He was running around in circles, shouting words that I couldn’t understand.” “He was screaming names of people who weren’t there.” “He held his fists up to fight.”  He threw furniture around the room with extreme strength.”  “He was sweating excessively.”  “He was twitching.”  “His eyes were darting quickly around the room.”  He was punching himself in the face and seemed unaffected by the pain.” “His hands were bleeding but he continued to punch the wall.”  “I spoke to him in a clear slow voice and he didn’t understand what I was saying” “He ignored my commands.”


Failed to Comply Did not obey an order to cooperate during an official action. Explain what official actions you wanted him to comply with and describe how he failed to do so.  “He walked away.”  “Turned away from me.”  “He continued to drive his vehicle for several minutes after I activated my emergency lights and siren after he looked back at me.” “He said, I ain’t going to jail.”



Failed to Yield




Did not give the right of way.



Describe the motorist’s operation of the vehicle that shows how he failed to yield the right of way to another vehicle or a police vehicle.  “He did not wait for oncoming traffic to pass before making a turn into traffic”  “He entered the intersection and cut in front of eastbound traffic.”



Feared for my Life



Felt the emotion of fear to the extent that you believe your life is in danger or you may be seriously injured or killed.



Explain the emotions you felt and the actions that caused to feel in such a manner. “The suspect reached into his waistband for a gun causing me to fear I was going to be shot by him.”







Escape from the scene of a crime or to intentionally avoid custody.



Explain how the person fled.  “He ran away from me.”  “He walked quickly and looked back to see if he was being pursued.”   “He drove away from the scene faster than the posted speed limit and passed a stop sign without stopping.”



Fought with Me



Engaged in fight or physical attack.



Describe what the person did to fight with you.  “He threw a punch at my face.” “He threw punches at me!”  “When I grabbed his arm to apply the handcuffs, he grabbed my arms and pushed me against the car.”  “He rammed his shoulder into my chest!”



Furtive Movements



Secretive; A manner giving the impression of something to hide; Suspicious movements.



Explain what you mean by FURTIVE MOVEMENTS.  “He reached under his seat.”  “He hid his hands from my view”  “He moved his hands toward his waist.”


Gang; Gang Member A person or group of people who typically engage in criminal behavior who act like a gang and/or display gang identifiers. Describe the behavior or identifiers that made you believe you were dealing with a gang, gang member or gang members. “He/they stood together in a cohesive group intently listening to the leader who was giving orders.” “He/they wore a red bandana and a red Boston Red Sox hat with the ‘B’ logo on it which is commonly worn by the Bloods in my jurisdiction.”  Explain your personal knowledge that the person or persons are members of a gang, such as he is listed in your agency’s database, he has been arrested previously with documented gang members, he has admitted to being a gang member.



High Crime Location



A place, such as a street, corner building or anyplace, that is experiencing or has experienced consistent criminal activity.



Explain why the place is a high crime location.  “Several drug arrests have been made at this location.”  “We have received numerous 911 calls for shots fired at this address!”  “There have been two people robbed here in the last few days.”






Affected; Influenced; Diminished ability, such as when someone’s abilities is impaired by drugs or alcohol.



Describe the manner of which the person is impaired from doing something, such as when their driving ability id hindered.  “His speech was slurred.”  He was unable to walk a straight line.”  “He walked into the car door.”  “He was unable to pull the key out of the ignition and kept trying to no avail!”


Impeded Traffic Interfered with traffic. See obstructed traffic below.



Physical damage to a person or animal. Describe the action and the resulting injury.  “He slapped her on the right side of her face leaving finger marks, redness and swelling.  She cried and claimed to feel extreme pain.”



Hinder or obstruct someone or something; Get in the way; Stop someone from doing something, such as stopping an officer from doing his job.


Explain the interference by describing the actions or statements made by someone.  “He shouted to his friend to run away from me!”  “He put his arm up in front of me to stop me from grabbing the suspect!”



Drunk or inebriated; Under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Describe the manner of which the person displays the intoxication, such as unsteady, bloodshot eyes, sleepy, slurred speech, inability to walk straight or unable to understand your commands and questions.
Matched the  Description When a suspect or vehicle has the same physical appearance as a vehicle or suspect who is being sought.

Give a detailed description and explain how it was consistent with the description of the suspect.  You can also reiterate the description.   “Male, Hispanic, light brown skin, about 5’9” 240 lbs., bald, wearing a gold earring in his left ear and a  blue NY Yankees logo shirt with dirty blue jeans and  white sneakers.”  “ He was driving a white Ford Explorer with NJ Plate ABC123, heading Northbound on I-95 from Exit 3.”


Obstructed Justice


To hinder or interfere with an officer’s duty or investigation. Describe the way the person obstructed or interfered.  “He lied about his name and date of birth to hide the fact that he had a warrant for his arrest.”  “Stepped in front of me when I attempted to place handcuffs on his friend.”
Obstructed Traffic To cause a blockage, delay or hindrance of any vehicle or pedestrian. Explain what was done to obstruct traffic.  “He parked his vehicle in the middle, blocking the path of any oncoming vehicles.”
Officer Safety Any condition that affects the safety of an officer.

Summarize the person’s criminal and violent history. Use information from your intelligence, such as from a Wanted Poster, a BOLO, a training class you attended, or NCIC. Explain the type of crime you are responding to. Explain if there are any weapons observed or if you have received information of weapons involved. When a weapon is observed, describe the proximity of the weapon to suspects. Describe the physical stature of the suspect.  Describe any characteristics consistent with armed suspects. “It was 100 degrees outside and the suspect was wearing a heavy coat.” “He kept touching his left pocket – his thumb and index finger extended in the form of a gun.” “There were three gang members approaching me with their hands in their pockets.”


Operating Controlling; Able to make something function.

Describe how the person was ‘operating’ something.  Operating a motor vehicle means to drive or be able to drive the vehicle by sitting in the vehicle with the keys readily available. “He was sitting in the vehicle holding the keys in control of the vehicle, ready to drive!”


Refused to be Handcuffed A statement of resistance or physical resistance to an attempt to be placed in handcuffs.

Describe how the person refused to be handcuffed.  Describe his behavior. “The person pulled away from me. “  “He folded his arms and made his arms rigid making it difficult for me to handcuff him.”  “He ran away and hid behind a trash dumpster.”  “As I tried to handcuff him he kept moving his hands away.”


Resisted Arrest Refused to give in to arrest

Describe how he resisted arrest.  Give a description of his actions or inactions.  “I told him to put his hands behind his back and didn’t do it!” “He said, NO, I AIN’T DOING ANYTHING!”  “He tightened his arms so I had to physically bend his arms behind his back!”  “He rolled his body in a tight ball and tucked his arms close to his body after I told him to put his arms on his head!” “He shouted, “YOU CAN’T ARREST ME!”


Suspicious Behavior

Behavior that makes you think something is wrong or a crime or other dangerous situation exists.



Describe what might constitute to you as suspicious behavior. The person was standing by the driver’s side door and began looking up and down the street. When he saw us he ran in the opposite direction. When we drove by him he bladed his body away and pressed his left arm closer to his side.



Threatened Made a Threat A declaration of intent to do harm. Quote the threat. “I’m gonna kill you!” “I’ll kick your ass!” “You are going to die!”  “You are going down!”

Unable to stand



Inability to stand on his own; Describe the person’s demeanor.  “He kept losing his balance.”  “When he tried to stand up, he would fall down.”  “He needed to hold on to something in order to stand.”
Uncooperative Obstinate; Refusing to cooperate.

Describe how the person is being uncooperative.  You should identify or explain what you want him to cooperate with.  If he verbally refused your orders, quote it.  “No!”  “I am not moving!” “You can’t tell me what to do!”  “Back-off!”


Under the influence


Affected by; Not in complete control because of the influence of an intoxicant such as drugs or alcohol. “He was unable to walk a straight line!”  “He tripped when he stepped out of the car.”  “His speech was slurred and I was unable to understand him.”


The list above does not include every ‘cop talk’ phrase known to man. But, it does give the reader a sense of how words and phrases we can use when we write and talk that will be more easily understood by the civilians who hear and read them.

Remember, cameras and witnesses, are everywhere. Articulating is explaining or as I used to say to my officers, “descriptively accurate.”  And never before has it been more necessary for cops to be “descriptively accurate.”

At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.



Email your questions to me here:  SAVELLI


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