Why Are the Cops Called 12?

Why Are the Cops Called 12?

One of the most popular police slang terms is “12”. This term is very popular in the US but many people still don’t know why cops are called with that “12”. To find out more, you can check out the following article.

Simple Look About “12” for Cops

Some of you may have wondered why this “12” became the nickname for cops. Although it may seem trivial, this term has influenced many aspects including popular culture. As a nickname for cops, there are quite a variety of terms used.

So, besides “12”, there are many other terms for police. Other terms that are also quite popular include po-po, 5-0, and so on. So is calling them “12” inappropriate? We will explore this further in this discussion. You might have heard this term from a movie you watched or maybe from certain songs.

Although the term “12” is used in entertainment media, it is not used that often. One of the things that many people believe why this term is used is so that people can give certain conditions to cops. This term is also used to inform about offices on duty and so on.

In other cases, people say “12” to inform about the presence of the police. So, there is a negative element to “12” as it could be used to help a party who is committing a crime to make them aware of the presence of the police. This term is used to make criminals prevent arrest.

There are quite a variety of beliefs surrounding this “12”. But calling cops “12” can be insulting, especially when accompanied by other bad words. People usually add these bad words when they complain about the performance of the police or intentionally insult them.

Some Origins of “12” for You to Know

Although there are negative uses for “12”, it can still be used in good ways. We can assume that this term has been around for a long time, and it’s pretty hard to figure out where it came from. From then until now, the term “12” has often been used by music artists in writing lyrics, especially rappers.

The term “12” used in these songs certainly refers to the existence of the police. There are quite a few theories about the source of this term and some do not intend to directly insult cops. Some of the origins are more of a reference to the police presence in the vicinity.

For you to explore more about the origin of this term, try to pay attention to the points below:

1. Adam-12

One of the theories of the origin of “12” is from a television show that was quite popular back in the day. Adam-12 has been on television for quite a long time, this show aired for more than 5 years. More precisely from 1968 to 1974. It is quite influential among TV show lovers.

This TV show is about the lives of police officers and often shows scenes of patrols around Los Angeles. It’s been around for so long that it’s surprising that the term “12” is used today. But what makes this theory promising is that there are other terms around cop calls that are also from old TV shows.

Aside from “12”, there’s another cops show called “5-0” and it originated from Hawaii 5-0, which is another police show besides Adam-12. Both have been around for a long time but Hawaii 5-0 is newer so this theory still makes sense. In fact, for many people, this theory is more acceptable even though some of them may not have watched the TV series.

From this, we can know that a TV show can give an “evergreen” impression or remain relevant even after many years.

2. “10-12” as police code in television series

The use of unique codes is sometimes used in certain scenes in police series. When police officers refer to a crime, they usually use certain codes, one of the codes used is “10-12”.

The code is used by officers to let them know a certain location has been visited by a party that has caused a certain confrontation. “10-12” is used to alert police officers to be better prepared when they arrive at a location, or under certain other conditions.

In addition to this meaning, there are other interpretations of this code. Sometimes “10-12” is also used. Code 10-12 is also sometimes used to inform people that the police are on their way. In other use cases, this code can also be used to ensure that there are police on the scene.

Quite different from the first intention of extra warning for police officers. The use of “10-12” this time is more to warn civilians including informing suspects to run away immediately before being caught by police officers.

3. “ACAB”

What follows might be both bad and complicated for you. Another term that could be the origin of “12” is ACAB. ACAB means ‘All Cops Are Ba****ds’. Apart from using this term directly, people use the numerical version, so “1312” is used as an alternative.

Then there are times when the term is abbreviated for ease of pronunciation or other purposes so that only the last numbers are used. So, “12” could come from something like that but the use of the first numbers might feel more appropriate, namely “All Cops”. Therefore, you need to reconsider this time’s unique theory because the previous theories make more sense.

4. “F*ck 12”

So, what is F*ck 12? Another theory that we will discuss is about a song. Migos, a hip-hop group from the United States released this song in 2013. In the song, “12” does not directly refer to the police as a whole. The mention of “12” is more specific to narcotics officers only.

In certain lyrics in this song, there is a meaning that suggests throwing drugs away because there are cops so they don’t get caught. So is this song the only one that uses the term “12” in its lyrics? Some other artists also use “12” when they want to mention the police in their lyrics.

Since many artists (especially hip hop) use the term “12”, this can further increase popularity. So it’s only natural that pop culture is now familiar with the term “12”.

These are some of the theories surrounding the origin of “12”. Even though there are quite a variety of sources for the term “12”, it is still uncertain. What we do know now is that “12” is one of the most commonly used terms in American daily life. But, South America probably uses the term “12” the most.

Is It Okay to Call the Cops “12” or is This Not Appropriate Enough?

The use of “12” about cops needs to be reconsidered and not misused. If we look at many cases, it is not directly meant to demean cops. More like we are informing the people around us that there are cops who have come or will come.

Although “12” is a term that is not directly negative, it can become bad when there are certain modifications to the term. Some people modify the term with bad words that can be quite demeaning to the police. These extra words can be added after or even before “12”.

Because of the bad words in addition to the “12”, this term becomes inappropriate for referring to cops. As we know the job of cops is very noble and we should maintain respect for them. Therefore, the use of terms that refer to cops should be reconsidered.

Although it’s not dangerous enough for you to say “12”, not all officers like it that way. If we want to talk about cops, just say it cops are safer. If you’re not sure enough to say “12”, then it’s safer to just use “cops” terms.

Is There Any Other Slang for Cops?

Quite often “12” is used to refer to cops, but there are other alternative terms you can use as well. It’s better to use terms that fit your community or are more commonly used in the state you live in. That way, you can stay relevant even when using slang.

By knowing some alternative channels, you can have a broader insight. You can more easily interact with others when discussing cops or can understand the world of policing more broadly. From the previous discussion, we know that 5-0 is another term besides “12”.

While the other term is “The Law”, although quite formal, this term is probably more appropriate. The Law terms refer to cops but may be used in a variety of contexts but primarily around the authority to enforce the law.

Another term is “Badge”, this term refers more to police officers who have a symbol that shows their power and authority. There is another term you need to know, Po Po or Popo. The majority of people believe that this is a police term but in a shortened version.

Although many people use this term to make it easier to refer to the police, many people use popo in derogatory ways. The wide variety of terms you see above shows that police terminology is quite dynamic. The use of slang for cops, although some have been around for a long time, is still evolving.

In each community, the slang used to refer to cops may vary. The terms used as slang or something like that can be quite varied depending on the geography, surrounding culture, lifestyle, or even individual preferences.

Is the Impact of Slang Significant Enough for Cops and Other Law Enforcement?

Slang terms that refer to cops are becoming more and more popular, so more and more people know and use these terms. On the other hand, the use of slang such as “12”, “5-0”, and so on can have a certain impact on the parties involved.

One clear form of language evolution is slang. Slang can shape interactions differently than usual. Between the public and law enforcement, there can be different communication outcomes when using slang. Therefore, all of us need to understand the meaning of “12” comprehensively.

We should know the possible consequences of using slang like “12”. The effect of using slang within the law may not be good enough but it can be good within certain communities. Make sure to use slang only to support positive relationships and communication.

Previously we discussed the use of “12” as a slang that is not appropriate enough to refer to cops. But, slang itself is a method for us to identify with others more easily. There are times when we can interact more easily by adding slang to our conversations with others.

But that’s more in the informal sphere like in the daily community, but what about the formal sphere like in the law enforcement sphere? The use of slang that refers to cops or law such as “12”, might create a negative impression or even trigger problems.

Law enforcement is also becoming more aware of the use of slang but there is still the potential for misunderstandings to occur when slang is used instead of everyday language. One source of trouble is miscommunication, and it can become more serious if not handled well enough.

If we look at the good part, it can reduce the gap between the community and law enforcement. Local culture remains and the honor of law enforcement authorities also remains. Both should be well synchronized with mutual respect.


The use of “12” as a slang term has been around for a long time and it refers to police officers. One of the main purposes of “12” is to warn that there are cops around so they can take precautionary measures. Although we’ve provided some theories above, the actual origin may not be clear enough.

Although it has been around for a long time, “12” is still relevant today and is even more widely known. The term “12” has gradually influenced the culture of society and even evolved as well. The use of this term is increasingly common in song lyrics, especially rap or hip-hop music.

Actually, “12” is not only used in song lyrics or TV series but also the scope of internet culture. There may be some social media users who use this term as it becomes more ingrained. The use of “12” to refer to police officers is not always negative.

This is not necessarily insulting or demonizing the police. Both the purpose and implications of “12” can be quite varied. It is better to understand more deeply the various purposes of using this term so that we can understand each other.

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