BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (2024)

For people who don’t work in any field of law enforcement, you may have heard certain terms or phrases used by police officers and you’ve been wondering what they mean.

Well, law enforcement has an entirely unique lingo; this is why you have no clue what they’re saying.

One of the aims of this “police jargon” is to ensure a feeling of unity among officers and also to provide the best way of communication between them.

These kinds of codes or police jargon began from the 1920s to 1960s, as radio communication between police officers became more rampant.

This was because radio traffic needed to be kept low to ensure that communication lines don’t get jammed.

However, in contemporary times with the advancement in technology, most of these terms used in police lingo are to quickly spread useful information about a criminal occurrence to officers on the ground.


Initially, police lingo may look pointless or too difficult for servicemen to understand but these seemingly “meaningless” terms serve a huge purpose.

It may seem that the whole purpose of using these acronyms is for the communication between two law enforcement men to stay encrypted from the public, but this is not so.

It may be part of the reason but the primary purpose of making use of law enforcement jargon is to keep the information being passed across straight to the point and short.

Aside from this, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is big on short transmissions; this is with the aim of saving bandwidth.

If huge volumes of radio transmissions are passed across through the airwaves it restricts its use for other reasons.

What’s more, these short and concise abbreviations are very important for the safety of law enforcement officials, whether at traffic lights, following up a car jack, or patrolling.

The primary aim of the officer should be solving the task at hand or effectively handling the subject they are engaging with, without having to spend so much time trying to alert other officers on what’s happening.

To elaborate some more, in 2016, 56 law enforcement officers in the United States were killed in the line of duty, with 26 of them killed by gunfire.

This shows what officers have to deal with on a daily basis.

In the line of fire, every second matters and these codes can help an officer quickly get information about a situation before it gets worse.

As far as security matters are concerned, every single second and minute counts and the sooner the right information is passed to the right person, the higher the chances of lives being saved.

In the United States, for every one million civilian, there are a hundred thousand police officers and in order to ensure smooth operations with such a huge difference ratio, law enforcement agents must be able to communicate quickly and efficiently with each other and this communication is most effective through codes.

BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (1)

Source: PSMag


Ever been driving or in traffic somewhere and you suddenly see a police vehicle speed passed you with its siren blaring and lights flashing?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably thought about how they all knew where to go and where they were going at the same time.

That’s actually a valid train of thought because someone sent them there and informed them they were needed in that particular location, most times, urgently, which is why they zoom past like that.

Often times, it was a police dispatcher who directed them to that location. Police dispatchers are extremely important to the law enforcement agency.

They may be overlooked most times but are a vital aspect to the success of police officers in the field.


As we saw above police dispatchers are responsible for passing across distress calls to the officers on patrol.

Do not be mistaken, as easy as sending short police jargon acronyms to other law enforcement servicemen sounds, it can be very stressful.

More often, dispatchers also double as 911 operators, this entails receiving distress calls and then dispatching officers to the location of the call using concise terms.

Dispatchers usually receive the first contact with the distressed persons before other law enforcement agents do. This is why using short codes or lingo is essential.

Most times the cause of call could be extremely urgent and trying to pass the information regularly to police officers around that location could slow the response time down.

There are many kinds of lingos, slangs and acronyms used by law enforcement agents, but for the sake of this article, we will be examining a common police jargon known as BOLO.

I’m pretty sure you must have heard this word being used by police officers and you have wondered what on earth a BOLO is.

Here is what BOLO is not, BOLO is not a new weapon used by the police neither is it the name of a new software used by law enforcement agents. What then is BOLO?


BOLO is an acronym for “Be on the Lookout”.

It’s majorly used by law enforcement agents to send information to officers in other parts of a city or country to be on the lookout for a fugitive, criminal or law offender that is on the run.

It could also be used for missing persons or stolen items.

When an officer calls another and says “BOLO for a blonde man driving a red SUV with a shattered windscreen”, what the message simply means is the receiver of the call should be on the Lookout for any blonde man driving a red SUV with a broken windscreen.

It could probably be that the blonde man caused an accident and he fled the accident scene or that he was involved in a shootout with the police and he is on the run.

Once the police officer receives the call, he starts paying attention to every car that passes by him especially if it is a red vehicle and once he identifies the car, he can flag it down and have the driver arrested or call for backup if there is a need for backup.

Most often a BOLO signal is sent to many officers at a time.

If a crime is committed and the culprit is on the run, all cops in the city and the ones at the different entry and exit points of the city including airports, seaports, train and bus station etc are alerted and they all swing into action to make sure that the criminal is caught.


A BOLO is issued mostly in a situation where there is a criminal on the run from law enforcement agents.

Most times people break the law and instead of paying for the offense, they try to play smart and send the police on a wild goose chase after them.

It could be that there was an officer that witnessed the crime and could not arrest the criminal because he was overpowered or the crime was reported via a 911 call and the description of the culprit was given.

Once the law enforcement agents get this report, they swing into action immediately and send a message to all their men stationed at the different corners of the city to be on the Lookout for the criminal.

A BOLO can be issued for a serial rapist or killer, a kidnapper, a robber, a gang of thieves, members of a drug cartel, smugglers, traffickers, and even drunk drivers.

There is no specific crime that a person has to commit before a BOLO is issued on him, as far as the person is considered a threat to the society or they’re absconding from paying for his offense, a BOLO is placed on him to make sure he is arrested.

A BOLO can also be issued on a person that is missing. When people get missing and their families can’t get in touch with them to know their whereabouts and safety, a report is made to the cops and a BOLO is sent out to other officers to be on the lookout for the missing person.

This will help in finding the missing person fast, it could be that the person was involved in an accident and didn’t have an ID on him for identification or he was kidnapped or mugged.

Whatever the circ*mstance surrounding the disappearance may be, once a BOLO is issued the person will easily be found.

A BOLO could also be issued on a missing or stolen item.

For example if someone’s car got hijacked or stolen from him, he can call the police and alert them immediately that his car just got stolen from him, he will describe the car and the direction in which the thieves went.

After the law enforcement agents receive the complaint, they signal their men along that route to be on the lookout for the car of the man so that the car can be recovered and the thieves apprehended.


When a BOLO call is made concerning a person or an object it isn’t a sketchy and summarized call it is rather very descriptive.

This is because, for whatever or whoever it is to be apprehended by the cops, they have to know exactly what they are looking for so that they do not end up arresting the wrong person.

When a person calls to report a crime, he is expected to give as many details as he can remember of the criminals to help the police lay hold on the criminal without much stress.

The same is applicable when a “Be on the Lookout” order is issued.

If what is being looked for is a person, the BOLO description will include the physical features of the person and his appearance such as:

  1. His/Her race or skin color (could be an Asian, a Caucasian, an African, or an Arab etc).
  2. His/Her hair color (blonde, brunette, grey, dyed etc).
  3. His/ her height and weight (it could be an estimation, since the reporter of the crime may not have so many details he could say about 5 feet tall or any other height estimation)
  4. Gender (Male or female)
  5. Description of the clothing. The caller has to describe the clothing the person is wearing. This description includes the type of clothing if it is shorts, pants, dress, jumpsuit etc. The color of the clothing is also important. Every single detail about the clothing is important if the criminal has something as little as a handkerchief with him or a ring on a finger it should also be included in the clothing description.
  6. Means of transport used by the offender: a car, motorcycle etc and the description of the means.

If it is an object that is missing say a vehicle, the description also has to be detailed.

If it’s a vehicle the following description will be provided for easy identification:

  1. The manufacturer of the car. For example a Cadillac, Toyota, Mercedes, Ford etc.
  2. The model and year of the car.
  3. The color of the car.
  4. The license plate number of the car.
  5. Other unique details on the car such as a sticker, the type of rims used on the tire, a damage on the car etc.

All these information is necessary so that the particular person or item is found without any mix-up.

A vague BOLO usually gives the officers a tough time because it is easy for them to identify the person or item if the details are elaborate.

When reporting a crime to the police or to 911 ensure you give all the details you know, this will make their job easier.

That is why you find cops on crime scenes trying to get information from the eye witness of the crime, the more information they have, the closer they get to apprehend the suspect.

Despite the fact that a BOLO is descriptive, it is also meant to be short and straight to the point.


Without being told, you can already tell that BOLO is very beneficial to law enforcement agencies.

If it wasn’t important or helpful, it would have probably been ditched a long time ago.

Let’s see some of the importance of BOLO:

1. BOLO Facilitates the Apprehending of Criminals

Crime is on the increase on a daily basis and the best way law enforcement agents can ensure that every criminal pays for his crime is by making sure that he is arrested.

A survey by the FBI carried out in 2016 showed that about 1.2 million violent crimes were committed in the US in 2016 alone.

The same study showed that 64.3% of the reported crime was for aggravated assault while 26.6% was over robbery, 7.7% were rape-related crimes.

According to the same report, 10.7 million arrests excluding traffic violations were made in 2016. Below is a Pie Chart showing the crime rate and the percentage of each crime

BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (2)

Source: FBI

You can agree with me that this is a very huge figure.

You may be wondering how the police were able to make all these arrests, a major percentage of these arrests were made based on BOLO alerts.

If not for BOLO the figures would have been increased by a greater percentage.

2. BOLO Helps the Law Enforcement Agents Not to Make Wrong Arrests

When a crime is committed, there are many suspects, but the fact that someone is a suspect doesn’t make him guilty of the offense.

A BOLO call placed with the appropriate description of the culprit will help the cops to get the exact person.

The reason why innocent people are arrested sometimes is because the cops don’t have specific evidence that will link them to the offender and so they end up picking the wrong people.

Research carried out by Aizman Law firm with information from the Michigan registry showed that at least 4.1 percent of all the defendants that had been sentenced to death were innocent.

According to the report, since the 1970s more than 8000 people who had been put on the death row were falsely convicted.

Below is a graph showing the exoneration of wrongfully accused persons on a yearly basis based on the data from the Michigan registry.

BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (3)

Source: Aizmanlaw

If there was an accurate BOLO issued out with the exact description of the offender, these innocent people wouldn’t have had to pay for offences they didn’t commit.

3. A BOLO Can Help in the Arrest of a Defaulting Officer Who is on the Run

By sending a signal to the other cops, the defaulting cop won’t be able to infiltrate the system and get away with the crime.

Sometimes, police officers are also guilty of committing offenses and if the eyewitness of the crime doesn’t call 911 immediately to report the cop may get away with it and actually fool the entire police force into not suspecting that he is the criminal.

Some cops have been convicted of crimes they committed while they were off duty.

Below is a chart showing the data of cops that have been arrested due to committing offenses between the years 2005 to 2011.

Most of them didn’t commit the crime while on duty or wearing their uniform but with the accurate description from one or two eyewitnesses, the defaulting cop was caught.

In a case like that, a BOLO is sent to his/her other colleagues and he/she is arrested immediately before further harm is done.

4. A BOLO Can Be Used to Alert Members of the Public

In some cases, a BOLO is placed for the public, warning them to be on the lookout for a dangerous criminal that is on the run.

This information can be passed via a broadcast or through newspaper or magazine publication.

This will help to keep the public alert and make them easily identify the criminal when spotted and to report to the nearest police station immediately.

Warning the public will also help to save the lives of some unsuspecting people that may fall victim to the criminal’s attack.

Sometimes the police may have a hard time apprehending some criminals and in order to keep the public safe and to easily get news on the criminal, they alert the public to be on the lookout.

This form of BOLO has helped to save the lives of many people and has also gotten criminals that are on the run arrested.

For example, if a rapist or a serial killer is on the run and the cops are having a hard time apprehending him, they alert the public to be at alert and give a description of the criminal and sometimes if the picture is available, the picture of the criminal will be attached.

Members of the public are advised to alert the police if the criminal is spotted.

This is mostly done for serial criminals who have a particular pattern or cycle they follow to attack people or criminals that have picked on a particular set of victims.


The BOLO code is essential to help police officers know details of a subject very quickly which aids the speed of their response time.

However, this is just one of the many acronyms in the “police jargon.”

If you are looking for a career in the police force or simply are just interested by such unique codes, by now you should be able to fully understand what the code BOLO means.

So, the next time you hear the code BOLO, you know what to be on the lookout for.

So far, BOLO has helped the law enforcement agents to arrest, convict and charge criminals for their offenses.

If BOLO was not used by cops, more than half of criminals would have gotten away with the crime, because criminals will be able to easily slip past officers stationed at strategic points without policemen or women on duty knowing a wanted criminal or a stolen item just passed under their nose.

For example, if a bank robbery happened in the center of town and the robbers drove towards the outskirt of the town, the only way the police officers at the border and the outskirts of the town will be alerted of the approaching group of criminals is through a BOLO.

Without the BOLO, the criminals can drive past and even wave the cops on duty without them suspecting anything.

With the use of BOLO, law enforcement agents can now work together as one with the same information, at the same time, to clamp down on criminals and also to restore stolen and missing items or people.

BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (5)


BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout" | Cleverism (2024)


What does Bolo mean to police? ›

Acronym of "be on the lookout".

What is the difference between a bolo and an APB? ›

BOLO means Be On the Lookout. APB means all points bulletin. An APB may actually be a BOLO or may simply be an informational message or alert for all points. BOLO is specific in that Law Enforcement is looking for a suspect or vehicle.

What are Bolo charges? ›

Answer and Explanation: BOLO is an acronym that means "be on the lookout." This is an instruction to law enforcement agents, or the general public, to watch out for a suspect criminal or criminal activity.

Do you have to answer the door for police Texas? ›

Citizens are not required to answer the door or talk to the police when they're knocking at your door without a warrant. If you don't consent to their entry, the police cannot enter and search your home without a warrant unless they have (1) probable cause and (2) exigent circ*mstances.

What is a bolo call? ›

BOLO is a popular acronym among police departments meaning "Be On the Look Out".

What is bolo and its uses? ›

A bolo is a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete, used particularly in the jungles of Indonesia, the Philippines, and in the sugar fields of Cuba. The primary use for the bolo is clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or during trail blazing.

What does 126 mean for cops? ›

Intercept suspects

What does APV stand for police? ›

for families experiencing APV, police, youth justice, and others who work with these families. Introduction. Adolescent to parent violence. poses significant challenges to. parents as it inverts traditional.

What does a bolo look like? ›

A bolo tie consists of a braided leather cord with silver or metal tips. The cord is threaded through a slide or clasp made of metal, wood, or beads. The clasp is typically decorated or made in the shape of Western designs and motifs like bears, thunderbirds, horses, and cattle skulls.

What is a bolo list? ›

January 05, 2022. I'm not usually one for BOLO (Be-On-The-Lookout) lists, because sometimes resellers over-emphasize them. However, it is good to familiarize yourself with top-selling brands to keep in mind when sourcing!

What does attempt to locate mean? ›

ATL: Attempt to locate – a directive or request to find a missing or wanted person.

Can a code enforcement officer enter private property in Texas? ›

Accordingly, unless an exception applies, an administrative search warrant is required before a code enforcement officer or code enforcement official may enter onto private property to conduct administrative inspections of residential or commercial premises for code violations.

Do I have to let police in my home? ›

In general the police do not have the right to enter a person's house or other private premises without their permission. However, they can enter without a warrant: when in close pursuit of someone the police believe has committed, or attempted to commit, a serious crime, or. to sort out a disturbance, or.

Can police enter your yard without permission in Texas? ›

To enter this area, police need to have either a Search Warrant or Warrant of Arrest. The big difference between your home, Patios, Porches, Police, and Backyards in Texas is that the inside of your home isn't in plain view.

What is a active bolo? ›

The term is usually used used for individuals or cases which are classified as dangerous or for crimes of a high priority. "Be on the Lookout" is also the most common definition for BOLO on Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Where is bolo used? ›

A bolo is a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete. It is used particularly in the Philippines, the jungles of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as in the sugar fields of Cuba. The primary use for the bolo is clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or during trail blazing.

What message does the bolo carry? ›

BOLO is an acronym for “Be on the Lookout”. It's majorly used by law enforcement agents to send information to officers in other parts of a city or country to be on the lookout for a fugitive, criminal or law offender that is on the run.

Is bolo a machete? ›

The bolo machete is common in S.E. Asia and is used for agriculture. The added weight towards the end aids in chopping ability for the useful machete.

What does bolo mean in Cuban? ›

ninepins; bowling ball; bowling ballgame; cone.

How do you clean and maintain a bolo tool? ›

Keep the blade sharp.

Bolo is like any other knife, so a basic sharpening stone will do the trick. We have an industrial stone sharpener with oil, but it's generally overkill for most people. Roll the knife back and forth on the stone, in a back and forth motion along the blade.

Where did the bolo machete originate? ›

The Bolo knife comes from the Philippines

The bolo knife (also called iták in Tagalog, sundáng in Cebuano, and binangon in Hiligaynon, to cover a few of the more prevalent languages/dialects of the Philippines) has long been a tool used for clearing jungle brush and for various agricultural purposes.

What does 74 mean in police? ›

10-72Prisoner in Custody
10-73Mental Subject
10-74Prison/Jail Break
10-75Wanted or Stolen
75 more rows
Sep 26, 2016

What does 1035 mean in police codes? ›

10-35 Time check. 10-36 Confidential information. 10-37 Identify the operator. 10-39 Can ______ come to the radio?

What does 1013 mean in police? ›

For example, in the NYPD system, Code 10-13 means "Officer needs help," whereas in the APCO system "Officer needs help" is Code 10-33. The New Zealand reality television show Police Ten 7 takes its name from the New Zealand Police ten-code 10-7, which means "Unit has arrived at job".

What does PSP mean in police? ›

Public Safety Personnel (PSP)

What does AOB stand for? ›

any other business — used at the end of a list of things to be discussed in a business meeting to indicate that new topics may be introduced.

What does SPI stand for in police? ›

The Smart Policing Initiative (SPI) is a collaborative effort among the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), national training and technical assistance partners, state and local law enforcement agencies, and researchers.

How long should a bolo be? ›

The regular bolo ties are about 38 inches from end knot to end knot, not sterling silver tips. The Extra Long bolo ties are suggested for people over 6 feet tall.

What weapon does bolo use? ›

Bolo wields Nodachi as his weapon. The Nodachi has roughly the same length as Giant Swords. The mechanics of his Nodachi resemble the Katana. Despite its immense size, Bolo is capable of swinging the Nodachi as if it was normal-sized.

Is a bolo considered a tie? ›

A bolo tie (sometimes bola tie or shoestring necktie) is a type of necktie consisting of a piece of cord or braided leather with decorative metal tips (called aiguillettes) and secured with an ornamental clasp or slide.

What is a bolo alert? ›

What does the Term Mean? BOLO is another way of alerting an officer to be on the lookout. This term may refer to an all-points bulletin or be intended to alert officers that a suspect is heading into an area where they are currently located. The word to be on the lookout may also originate outside the jurisdiction.

Are Bolo groups worth it? ›

Even if you're not ungated in many categories there is enough to make money. The BOLOs have to be 50% of higher ROI which really helps make the group worth every penny. The feedback and BOLO's are worth every penny.

What does the Brady list mean? ›

A Giglio or Brady list is a list compiled usually by a prosecutor's office or a police department containing the names and details of law enforcement officers who have had sustained incidents of untruthfulness, criminal convictions, candor issues, or some other type of issue placing their credibility into question.

How do I know if the police are looking for me? ›

You are visited or contacted by the police – The most common way to tell if the police are investigating you is if they confront you personally. You may find police showing up at your home, place of work, or reaching out to you by phone to ask questions about a criminal case.

Why is the police called 12? ›

Why Are The Police Called “12”? Police are called 12 as a slang term. According to sources, 12 comes from the police radio code “10-12,” which means that visitors are present in the area where police are going. It's similar to a warning to police that they might have company when they arrive on the scene.

How long can you be wanted for a crime? ›

For most crimes, the state loses the power to charge you with a crime 5 years after the crime is committed. Like most other facets of the law there are exceptions, here are a few. If the crime committed was rape there is no statute of limitations.

How does a Bolo work? ›

BOLO is an acronym for “Be on the Lookout”. It's majorly used by law enforcement agents to send information to officers in other parts of a city or country to be on the lookout for a fugitive, criminal or law offender that is on the run. It could also be used for missing persons or stolen items.

What does APB mean cops? ›

: a general bulletin broadcast to alert law-enforcement officers over a wide area that someone (such as a suspect) or something (such as a vehicle) is being actively sought in connection with a crime. The all-points bulletin for the suspects issued Thursday describes them as "armed and dangerous" …

What does ATB mean in police? ›

Meaning of all-points bulletin in English

a radio message about a person or vehicle that the police are looking for, sent to all the police officers who work in a particular area: The Palm Springs police most likely have an all-points bulletin out on her right now. Detection & solving crimes.

What does FTA mean cops? ›

FTA stands for failure to appear. It means there is a bench warrant for your arrest because you failed to appear in court at a designated time.

How long are bolo ties? ›

The regular bolo ties are about 38 inches from end knot to end knot, not sterling silver tips. The Extra Long bolo ties are suggested for people over 6 feet tall.

What is a bolo closure? ›

What is a bolo clasp? A bolo clasp is the bolo bracelet's main design element that makes this style so popular. The clasp is the adjustable closure that ensures that your bracelet not only fits perfectly but remains secure on your wrist.

What does PSP stand for in police? ›

Public Safety Personnel (PSP)

What is the acronym for a missing person? ›

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, is the national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases throughout the United States.

What does APC stand for police? ›

Actual Physical Control (APC) Of A Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated. Home. Case Wins. DUI/DWI CDL Consequences.

What does CBA mean in police? ›

A collective bargaining agreement (CBA), in the context of police union contracts, is a contract between police departments and unions to establish rights, protections, and provisions for law enforcement officers.

What does IG mean in police? ›

3. Inspector General of Police. 4. Deputy Inspector General of Police.

What does obs mean in police terms? ›

obs (uncountable) (slang) police observation quotations ▼synonym ▲ Synonym: obbo.

What does FTC FTA notice mean? ›

FTA is short for “Failure to Appear.” It is a legal term used by the courts when a person fails to appear in court for his/her court date.

What does FTA slang stand for? ›

"From the Article" is the most common definition for FTA on Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

What does FTA mean military? ›

Evacuation. Extraordinary Quarters Allowance (EQA) Foreign Transfer Allowance (FTA)

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