When in the presence of police officers, people invariably do that weird thing with the way they talk. Like, "Hello. Welcome to another edition of Cop Talk, where we focus on the subjects of guns, drug busts and misdemean-uhs. No big whoop."

Cop Speak usually consists of the following words used in a sentence either singularly or in conjunction with each other:

Perpetrator (or "perp")
Flee (or "fled")
Abandon (any tense)
Weapon (or "piece")

There are others, lots of them, but I'm tired and too pressed for time to keep adding to the list right now.

I am absolutely certain that nearly everyone talks like this when a cop is involved with the conversation. Perhaps it makes people feel like they're part of the authority structure or like they're doing something "civic-minded"... official. In situations where Johnny Law is on the scene, people slip, almost imperceptably, into a variety of legal jargon that I call "Cop Speak."

Point in fact:

So I called the cops last night- it was my civil duty, really. I was on the way home at 5 AM when I passed an obvious car wreck. Debris was scattered all over the front lawn of a roadside business, the car stopped at an angle askew from the rest of the road. I slowed down and that's when my conscience started speaking to me. "I don't see any cops," it said. "No cops, no ambulence, no bodies... just an empty road and a ton of steel, plastic and glass that looks remarkably like a Dodge Intrepid. You've got to stop and report it. It's important."

I stopped, cut my engine and called 911 on my cell phone, wondering if the telecommunications device even had enough battery power left in it to make the call. It rang four times and then someone picked up.

"911 Emergency. Please state the nature of the emergency," a female's voice said with a slightly southern drawl.

That's when it started. It was like some sort of subliminal thing that I picked up from TV or hanging around cops too much or reading too many detective stories. That's when the Cop Speak came out. "I'm at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Caruthers," I told her. "A car has run into a telephone pole. No witnesses are standing around, no units that I can see, no injuries- the car is empty. Airbags are deployed. They took out the phone pole. Debris is everywhere. Can you please dispatch a unit out here?"

"Were you involved in the accident, sir?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I wasn't involved. Just driving by and noticed an abandoned car, hazards blinking and no one nearby. I think the-" here we go! "-people involved fled the scene." I lumbered out of my own car and informed her, "I'm approaching the vehicle now. Both airbags have been deployed." I made my way around the back end of the car. "License plate number JSC-972. That's John - Stephen - Christopher, Nine Seven Two, Tennessee plates." She asked for my name and I gave it to her, adding, "I don't see any skid marks, so they didn't slam on their brakes- they must have hit it dead-on, which leaves me to suspect that they might have been drunk or asleep at the wheel."

"Thank you, sir. We'll send out a unit as soon as possible."

"All right," I replied. "I'll wait here until they arrive. Thanks." And then I hung up. I went back to my car and withdrew my to-go cup of coffee that I bought at the cafe not ten minutes before. It was cold outside and I wanted something to keep me warm since my trench coat wasn't doing a good enough job of it. I paced up and down the sidewalk next to the dead car and lit a cigarette, noting each car that passed by the wreckage, hoping it might be a black-and-white. I smoked for maybe five minutes until I spotted a car in the distance, its strobe lights clearly visible from 1/4 mile away even though they weren't on yet. No strobe lights flashing, my mind noticed, which means that this is probably a partol unit and simply making his tour of the neighborhood. He probably doesn't even know about the accident yet. I ambled into the middle of the road to make sure that I got his attention- not that he would miss the hulking mass behind me and a telephone pole leaning at the wrong angle. Splinters of wood and parts of the car's body were strewn all over the roadside, impossible to miss should anyone drive over them.

The unit finally slowed, passed me by at a snail's pace, stopped in a parking lot across the street, called the addicent into dispatch and then circled back to where I stood, next to the downed car. I waited patiently while the cop within continued his conversation with dispatch until he rolled the window down. The window squeeked in protest, its motorized mechanisms unhappy at being called into action in the cold weather.

"What happened?" he asked. As if it wasn't painfully obvious.

The Cop Speak came back. "Head-on collision with a telephone pole," I said tersely. "Probably drunk or asleep when they hit- no skid marks. No abrasions on the side paneling or cracked or shattered glass- I don't think they were forced off the road. Whoever they are, they fled the scene of the accident, probably scared that they would get into trouble for taking out a telephone pole- which adds to my suspicion that they're drunk because any right-thinking person would know that leaving a car with license plates still on it will lead you guys right back to the guilty party."

The cop mulled it over in his mind, giving it some thought in his coffee-and-donut-adeled brain. Then he looked up at me and said, "Makes sense. Did you see it happen?"

I shook my head. "No, sir. I was just on my way home when I saw the car and figured that it was my civil duty to stop. I already called dispatch and 911- they should be here shortly."

"Musta happened five minutes ago," he mused, "because I was just here."

I didn't bother to correct him. The accident had to have happened long before 5 minutes ago. I had been on the scene for more than ten minutes and the driver was already long gone, which means that they had at least a 5 minute head start before I arrived. What's more is that I noticed the wreckage about a mile down the road before I stopped, the blinking hazard lights like a beacon in the clear, dark morning. The accident, by my math, had to have occurred at least twenty minutes before that cop even noticed me. My mind jumped into high gear and I realized that the cop was probably trying to cover his ass and hoping that I wouldn't call him on it- it was his subtle way of saying, "This is my turf. I should have been by here five minutes ago, as scheduled, but I was delayed for no important reason and you showed up to make my night miserable by making it clear that I wasn't doing my job in a timely fashion. Ergo: it happened five minutes ago and I'll stick to it if my duty sergeant asks."

To his clear obfuscation, I merely said, "Hmm."

"Well," he said. "I can take it from here. Thanks for waiting." He dismissed me. No more questions, not even asking for my name and information... just a subtle way of telling me to take a hike.

I took it in stride. I was tired anyway and didn't really want to get myself involved any more than I had been. Emergency dispatch got my name and that should suffice. Maybe the dispatcher expected the first officer to arrive would get more data from me. So, anyway, I left him there, parked behind that abandoned car and made my way home. I was less than two minutes away from my domicile and got to thinking about something: This needs to be noded if it hasn't been already.

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