Jargon leaves police with their TWOCs in a twist

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IT STARTED when the police realised they would not be able to understand their French counterparts if there was an emergency in the Channel tunnel. Then a more worrying truth emerged: Britain's police forces cannot even communicate with each other.

The Kent force is now training its officers in a form of Franglais to cope with the tunnel problem. But the research team working on the project found that radio and telephone communications between British policemen are just as liable to dangerous misunderstandings because of wide variations in jargon. It gets even worse if the fire and ambulance services are involved.

Inspector John Gledhill, of the Kent police, explained that even the word 'casualty' had different meanings: 'To an ambulanceman it means an injured person. To a policeman it could be damaged property. But a coastguard will think you mean a ship.'

Professor Edward Johnson, senior research fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, and his team, who are writing the new Anglo-French language, have now started working on a second 5,000-word lexicon called 'Intacom' for the police to use among themselves.

Insp Steve Lister, of the Home Office Police Research Group, said that regional differences could add to the confusion. 'TDA, for instance, standing for 'take and drive away', is used in the south of England to refer to a car crime. But in London its equivalent is TAWOC - 'take away without owner's consent', and in Newcastle the same crime is a TWOC - 'taking without owner's consent'. In the Thames Valley, 'DIC' is used for 'drunk in charge'. Other forces would be confused to hear 'There's a DIC coming up the High Street'.

The police use hundreds of codes: 'Since they know people can hear them, there is a tendency to make their messsages as unintelligible as possible to outsiders.'

However, there are times when police use language that anyone can understand. The first thing one rookie blurted into his radio when he arrived on the scene of a major incident was 'Shit]'