Why are Cops Called 12 and How Did The Term Come About?

12 is a slang term used to refer to police officers, but there are several theories regarding why they are called that and how the term came about. Before we explore those theories, it is essential to emphasize that 12 as a term for cops is most commonly used in the Southern States of the United States, like Georgia.

It is mainly used in rap songs and other pop culture references in that region. However, the use of that term to refer to cops is now a universally accepted phrase used across, not just on the internet, but in real life as well. This article focuses on why cops are called 12 and the myriad theories about how the term came about.

The Use of 12 To Refer To Cops Has a Negative Connotation

12 has been a term used to address the police force in general, in the United States, since the 1960s. However, chances are several people have used it, heard it used in rap songs, or seen where it was used on the internet without knowing why the term is used in the first place.

At this point, it becomes imperative to express that when people use that term to refer to the police, they usually have negative connotations behind their usage of the term, particularly in reference to the often violent, unsavory history of policing in the United States.

Several Theories About the Origin of the Slang Term Abound

Given how popular and widespread this term has become, it only makes sense that one would wonder about the origin of a term often used to disparage the police force and its activities in the United States.

Nonetheless, there are several theories, none of which are definitive,  about how the term 12 came to be used by people to refer to the police. The most popular theory revolves around the fact that it originated from the police radio code system 10-12.

This system, developed in the 1930s to aid in standardizing radio communications between police officers, is used to indicate that there are civilians in the area where police officers are patrolling.

Another of the more popular theories about the origin of this term emanates from the late 1960s to early 1970s TV show titled Adam-12. The show was about cops, two of them in particular, as they carry out their policing work in the streets of Los Angeles in their patrol unit 1-Adam-12.

The last, but not the least, of the theories surrounding the origin of the word and who it refers to was culled from Migos’ rap song, F**k 12. The essential lyrics of the songs focus on narcotic officers but urge people to get rid of the narcotics in their possession to avoid being caught by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

12 Has Become a Widely Accepted Term For Cops

Whether it is down to how often and consistently the term has been used over the years since it became a thing or due to other factors, the fact remains that 12 has become a widely accepted term and slang used to refer to police officers.

It is frequently used to inform civilians about the presence of cops in a particular area, often so they can escape being apprehended by the police or just to get them to be more careful with their conduct.

The usage of the slang 12 by famous rappers like Gucci Mane in their songs has also made it a widely accepted pop culture reference for cops.

12 as Slang May Have Different Meanings in Different Cultures

We have already covered that the number 12 has a significant albeit negative connotation when it concerns matters relating to cops, especially those in the United States. However, it is important to specify that the number is not always considered a bad omen, as certain numerology systems associate the number 12 with perfection and completeness.

Aside from those, it is equally considered important in many cultures. Several aspects of significance come to mind, including the fact there are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 hours on a clock face, 12 apostles in Christianity, and many more instances where this number bears significant meaning.

Generally speaking, numbers in slang are used as symbols for words or notions more creatively. Using numbers to convey ideas will remain a staple for many cultures but the significance to cops under the 10-12 police code system often meant stand by.

Some Other Common Slang Terms Used To Refer To Cops

While the slang term 12 is commonly used to refer to the police, it is by no means the only term used to refer to this law enforcement body.

In the United States alone, there are several slang terms used to address law enforcement personnel, including Cops, Five-O, and Popo/Po-Po, among others. Some of these terms are, of course, funny and complimentary, while others range from less than savory to downright crusty and uncalled for.


Of all the slang terms used to refer to members of the police force, the term Cops is arguably the most universal of all. It only fits the bill that several origin stories about this term exist.

One of the most prominent refers to a period in the 18th century when policemen were called coppers, most likely due to the copper content in their badges. As time passed, it was shortened to cop in the United States and other parts of the world.


This slang term was derived mainly from Hawaii Five-O, one of the famous television police shows from the 1960s. The show inadvertently popularized the use of the slang term Five-O to refer to police officers. Since then, it has been used by civilians to warn fellow civilians about speed traps laid out by the police.


One of the more recent terms used to refer to the police is Popo or Po-Po, depending on how you pronounce it. Several sources confirm that this street terminology originated in the United States in the mid-1990s.

According to various sources, it is an abbreviation of the word police, while others believe it is an acronym for Police officers (PO), usually expressed by saying the abbreviation twice. It is also one of the slang terms members of the police force have a hard time relating to because it is used to disrespect the police with negative intent.

Hugo Wright
Hugo Wright
Hugo has extensive professional writing experience and has been writing and editing articles on multiple platforms for several years now. Away from work, he is a football addict who loves to catch up on his favourite pastimes.


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