APCO radiotelephony spelling alphabet
The APCO phonetic alphabet, a.k.a. LAPD radio alphabet, is the term for an old competing spelling alphabet to the ICAO radiotelephony alphabet, defined by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International from 1941 to 1974, that is used by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and other local and state law enforcement agencies across the state of California and elsewhere in the United States. It is the "over the air" communication used for properly understanding a broadcast of letters in the form of easily understood words. Despite often being called a "phonetic alphabet", it is not a phonetic alphabet for transcribing phonetics.
In 1974, APCO adopted the ICAO Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, making the APCO alphabet officially obsolete; however, it is still widely used, and very few, if any police departments in the U.S. use the ICAO alphabet.
The APCO first suggested that its Procedure and Signals Committee work out a system for a "standard set of words representing the alphabet should be used by all stations" in its April 1940 newsletter. By this point, APCO President Herb Wareing "came out in favor of a standard list of words for alphabet letters, preferably suitable for both radiophone and radiotelegraph use."
The list was based on the results of questionnaires sent out by the Procedures Committee to all zone and interzone police radio stations. The questionnaire solicited suggestions, but also included the existing Western Union and Bell Telephone word lists, plus another list then in general use by a number of police stations. Lists used by military services were excluded because of a lack of permission to reproduce. The resulting final list differs from the Bell Telephone word list by only five words, and from the Western Union word list by only eight words.
Replacement with international spelling alphabet
In 1974, APCO adopted the ICAO International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, replacing the Adam-Boy-Charlie alphabet APCO first published in 1940. However, most police departments nationwide have kept using the 1940 APCO spelling alphabet, with those using the 1974 APCO spelling alphabet being the exception, rather than the rule. A partial list of police departments using the modern APCO/ICAO spelling alphabet includes:
- Saint Paul, Minnesota Police Department
LAPD usage history
At some point in the early history of emergency service mobile radio systems,[when?] the LAPD adopted the APCO radio spelling alphabet for relaying precise information on individual letters. For example, the license plate "8QXG518" might be read by a civilian as "eight cue ex gee five eighteen" but with accuracy being paramount, the police dispatcher would say "eight queen x-ray george five one eight." Despite the development in 1941 of the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet and its replacement, circa 1956, by the NATO phonetic alphabet (currently used by all NATO armed forces, civil aviation, telecommunications, and some law enforcement agencies), the LAPD and other law enforcement and emergency service agencies throughout the United States continue to use their traditional system.
Comparison of U.S. law enforcement radiotelephony spelling alphabets
The APCO radiotelephony spelling alphabet and its variations represent the letters of the English alphabet using words as follows:
|Letter||APCO Procedure Committee 1941||APCO Project 2
|LAPD code word||CHP code word||LVMPD code word||APCO Project 14 (1974)||Present ICAO code words|
|N||Nora (North was the original proposal)||Nora||Nora||Nora||Nora||NOVEMBER||November|
|0||ZERO (with a strong Z and a short RO)||Zero||Zero|
|1||WUN (with a strong W and N)||One||Wun|
|2||TOO (with a strong and long OO)||Two||Too|
|3||TH-R-EE (with a slightly rolling R and long EE)||Three||Tree|
|4||FO-WER (with a long O and strong W and final R||Four||Fower|
|5||VIE-YIV (with a long I changing to short and strong Y and V)||Five||Fife|
|6||SIKS (with a strong S and KS)||Six||Six|
|7||SEV-VEN (with a strong S and V and well-sounded VEN)||Seven||Seven|
|8||ATE (with a long A and strong T)||Eight||Eight|
|9||NI-YEN (with a strong N at the beginning, a long I and a well sounded YEN)||Niner||Niner|
There are several local variations of this system in use. The California Highway Patrol, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, San Jose Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, and other agencies across the West Coast and Southwestern United States, as well as the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, use versions that allocate Yellow to "Y" and other agencies' versions allocate Baker or Bravo to "B", or use variations that include Nancy instead of Nora for "N", Easy instead of Edward for "E", or Yesterday for "Y".
With the ultimate goal of clarity, especially in circumstances where signals can be garbled, the use of the word Ocean seems to be advantageous in the radio communication of the letter "O" because it begins with the long, clear vowel "O". The phonetic words Ida and Union feature this same advantage. However, spelling alphabets seem to rarely use initial long vowels. With the exception of Uniform, none of the initial vowels in the NATO alphabet is like this. In an earlier U.S. military alphabet, "A" was indicated by Able, which does start with a long "A", but has since been changed to Alpha (also spelled Alfa, particularly outside the English-speaking countries). In like manner, for clarity, the use of "niner" instead of "nine" for the numeral 9 prevents confusion with the numeral 5, which can sound similar, especially when communications are garbled.
The origin of the name Adam-12 from the television series with that same title is believed to have come from this alphabet. To the present, the LAPD calls its basic two-man patrol car an “A” unit – and the letter “A” is spoken as “Adam” in the phonetic alphabet. So 1-Adam-12 translates to [Division] One (LAPD Central Division) Two Man Patrol Car (Adam unit) in patrol car 12. The 12 refers to what is called "The Basic Car Plan". That is the patrol area within the Division (precinct). Specialized units use the last numbers as designating the officers. An example would be 6U2, Hollywood Division report writing unit is an example. The patrol car, in LAPD jargon, is called a Black and White owing to the colors. The number that is on the car is called the shop number and is only used for identifying the vehicle.
In the 1970s American television series CHiPs, motorcycle units were identified with the letter "M", such as 7M4 (Seven Mary Four) for Officer Frank Poncherello (portrayed by Erik Estrada). His partner, Officer Jon Baker (portrayed by actor Larry Wilcox), was identified as 7M3 (Seven Mary Three). (7M3 is an example of a police radio call sign: 7 designates the patrol beat, M for Mary designates that he is a motorcycle unit, and 3 is his unit number.)
The American musical band Seven Mary Three came up with their band's name while watching CHiPs. Jason Pollock, a member of the band, revealed that "there's no great significance or anything. We were just tired of trying to think of a cool name."
On Starsky & Hutch, another 1970s American television series, their car was identified as "Zebra 3".
Also, since many police, fire department, and rescue squad TV programs and movies are set in Los Angeles, the words of the LAPD phonetic alphabet have become familiar in the United States, Canada and English-speaking countries around the world due to the wide reach of American entertainment media. When used by workers such as telephone operators speaking to “civilians” who may be unfamiliar with the use of a phonetic alphabet, both the everyday letter and its phonetic alphabet equivalent are spoken, such as “B as in boy”, “V as in Victor”, etc.
On early seasons of Wheel of Fortune, a close variant of the LAPD phonetic alphabet was used. Players would be encouraged to say things like "I'll have B as in boy" when choosing letters.
- Spelling alphabet
- Allied Military Phonetic Spelling Alphabet
- ICAO/NATO phonetic alphabet - International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet, also used in the NATO
- Language-specific spelling alphabets
- Cockney alphabet
- "Public Safety Communications Standard Operating Procedure Manual, (APCO Project Two, 1967)". Retrieved 27 April 2015.
- "The APCO Bulletin (April, 1940)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
- "Backscatter Journal" (PDF).
- "Page Sixteen, The APCO Bulletin April 1940" (PDF).
- "New Word List for CW and Phone" (PDF).
- "APCO Project 14 report, exhibit No. 8, International Phonetic Alphabet" (PDF).
- "Saint Paul Police Department Manual, Section 441.04 Radio Procedures".
- "APCO Projects".
- "A NATIONAL TRAINING MANUAL AND PROCEDURAL GUIDE FOR POLICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY RADIO COMMUNICATIONS PERSONNEL".
- "LAPD Manual Volume 4 Line Procedures".
- "CHP Pursue Your Future" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-21.
- "Code Card" (PDF).
- "Annex 10 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation: Aeronauticatl Telecommunications; Volume II Communication Procedures including those with PANS status" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-11-01.
- "Send Code Word Ideas" (PDF).
- LAPD Academy 2015
- Musicianguide.com Biographies: Seven Mary Three
- "APCO Phonetics". Los Angeles County Disaster Communications Service. 2008. Provides the LASD and LACDCS APCO Phonetic alphabet