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The Police Alphabet | A Critical Part Of Law Enforcement Communications

The Police Alphabet | A Critical Part Of Law Enforcement Communications

The Police Alphabet | A Critical Part Of Law Enforcement Communications


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With the police alphabet a critical part of law enforcement communications, it’s crucial to understand and appreciate just how important this phonetic alphabet is in helping police officers respond to calls, save lives, and have better communications between their teams. Police officers have their own unique 10-codes and alphabet letters, which are slightly different than the standard federal and military phonetic alphabet. Yet, both the standard military phonetic alphabet and the pole alphabet are well-respected and can be used interchangeably.

What is the Phonetic Police Code?

The phonetic police code is also known as the police alphabet. The meaning of the word phonetic is a system of symbols that directly correlates to speech. In this case, the symbols are the 26 letters of the English alphabet. The speech portion consists of the full names and words that correspond to these letters.

The police alphabet consists of the following:

  1. A is Adam 
  2. B is Boy
  3. C is Charlie
  4. D is David
  5. E is Edward
  6. F is Frank
  7. G is George
  8. H is Henry
  9. I is Ida
  10. J is John
  11. K is King
  12. L is Lincoln
  13. M is Mary
  14. N is Nora
  15. O is Ocean
  16. P is Paul
  17. Q is Queen
  18. R is Robert
  19. S is Sam
  20. T is Tom
  21. U is Union
  22. V is Victor
  23. W is William
  24. X is X-Ray
  25. Y is Young
  26. Z is Zebra

What is the Difference Between the Police Alphabet and the Military Alphabet?

Both police officers and military personnel use their own versions of a phonetic alphabet to communicate with dispatchers through radio communications. However, the military alphabet is slightly more complex than the police alphabet is.

This version of the alphabet was brought into being by the 1956 alphabet published by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. This alphabet is used by police and airmen in the United States and the United Kingdom. It consists of the following letters:

  1. A is Alpha
  2. B is Bravo
  3. C is Charlie
  4. D is Delta
  5. E is Echo
  6. F is Foxtrot
  7. G is Golf
  8. H is Hotel
  9. I is India
  10. J is Juliet
  11. K is Kilo
  12. L is Lima
  13. M is Mike
  14. N is November
  15. O is Oscar
  16. P is Papa
  17. Q is Quebec
  18. R is Romeo
  19. S is Sierra
  20. T is Tango
  21. U is Uniform
  22. V is Victor
  23. W is Whiskey
  24. X is X-Ray
  25. Y is Yankee
  26. Z is Zulu

History of the Military Alphabet

It’s important to understand that the military alphabet and police alphabet are two completely different sets of the alphabet. This is an important distinction to make since the standards for the military alphabet are set in stone. This is to say that words cannot (or at least should not) be used interchangeably with other words when used in a military setting.

The military alphabet was created around the end of World War II in an effort to standardize the language among aviation members in the military, such as pilots. Of course, during this war effort, different countries fought as allies and had different accents when speaking through their radio communications. As such, it was important to standardize the English language and find the best ways to communicate individual letters between pilots in the United States Navy and the Royal British Air Force.

The phonetic military alphabet was also used among members of the Army, who were fighting on land yet still communicating between pilots and other military members.

How the Alphabet Was Made

Researchers from Harvard and later the University of Montreal went through much trial and error to arrive at the modern phonetic alphabet that inspired the police alphabet used today. According to researchers, the 1956 ICAO alphabet was developed with these characteristics in mind. The words for the letters had to be:

  1. an active word in each of the three working languages.
  2. effortlessly pronounced and recognized by airmen of all languages.
  3. have good radio transmission and readability characteristics.
  4. have similar spelling in at least English, French, and Spanish, and the initial letter must be the letter the word identifies.
  5. free from any association with objectionable meanings.

The Police Alphabet Vs. The Military Alphabet

The military alphabet used by NATO allies was well-researched by language specialists who determined that the alphabet’s words were the best way to convey the clear communication of a letter.

The military alphabet is used in radio communication and among pilots of major airlines and on air waves. However, the police alphabet is mostly used among local departments, and each might have subtle differences of their own. For instance, police officers in New York might say “Eddie” instead of “Edward,” or officers in the Los Angeles Police Department might say “Peter” instead of “Paul.”

Unlike in the military, these minor changes to the police alphabet are ok to do, so long as the radio communication is still clear and understandable.

Why Use a Police Alphabet Anyways?

For dispatchers, giving out orders to police officers on the field and taking in information that is accurate is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, radio communications might be unclear with some letters. For instance, the letter “D” might sound like the letter “C,” or “B,” or “E”! 

By using the police alphabet or the military alphabet, police officers can have an easier time relaying and understanding information to help them during a call. For instance, using the proper communication can help them:

  • Identify a building
  • Get accurate license plate information
  • Convey accurate driver’s license information
  • Conveying the spelling of someone’s name
  • Clarifying a street
  • Clarifying a direction 

Being clear over the police radio can also help deter crime. For instance, if a crime is taking place and the license plate is known, an officer can run that plate’s information to identify a criminal and help a victim!

Using the Police Alphabet during High Stress Situations

It’s also important to remember that speaking clearly and thinking clearly is very difficult for an officer to do during high-stress situations, such as during a violent crime. Let’s say a police officer is in pursuit of a suspect or is in an emergency situation, and suddenly is injured. Now, the patrol officer must call their dispatchers through his or her police radio and communicate a street name or even the license plate of the person that caused their injury.

By using the police alphabet which is more flexible than the military alphabet (and has shortened words), a police officer can more easily convey information in the midst of their stress. With police shootings, unrest, and more and more people falling victim to violent crime, the use of a police alphabet becomes even more critical.

Can Police Officers Use the Military Alphabet?

It’s estimated that 19% of all law enforcement officers are veterans that were once in the military. That’s a pretty big number, and it makes sense that many police officers might use police codes and 10 codes from the military interchangeably with their law enforcement agency. 

Therefore, although military members and airline pilots might be a bit stricter on the interchangeability of their alphabet, many law enforcement officers might choose to interchange words in the military alphabet on a regular basis. Chances are, their fellow officers who are also veterans will understand.

Using the Police Alphabet Outside of a Work Setting

There are many types of codes that law enforcement professionals use during their work, such as the police alphabet, military alphabet, and 10 codes. Firefighters and emergency service personnel also use some of these codes, such as when responding to emergency situations, helping a victim during a medical emergency or traumatic emergency, and other situations.

Private ambulance companies might also allow their paramedic and emergency medical technicians to use the police alphabet or military alphabet, or a combination of the two. Ambulances and firetrucks both have their own radios in their vehicles, which still might sound unclear and require the use of a phonetic alphabet to better transmit information.

As such, paramedics, EMTs, and firefighters are free to use the police alphabet if they wish. However, it’s best to reserve its use among other professionals. For instance, if you work as a nurse inside of a hospital, other nurses might not understand what you mean when you a 10 code. It’s also not necessary to use a phonetic alphabet in other emergency settings, such as when providing emergency care to a victim. This does the opposite of streamlining communications, and it’s not necessary to spell out words in this scenario.

Final Thoughts

The police alphabet and the military alphabet have been instrumental in helping provide clear communications and help personnel respond to emergencies. Although there might be slight differences between departments throughout the country, the outcome is the same: helping police communicate and making their days a little easier.

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