Police officers tend to use the phonetic alphabet when spelling out names or vehicle index numbers when they transmit via radio or sometimes by phone. If the signal isn’t very good or there is a lot of background noise it can be easy to mistake certain letters of the alphabet such as a B with an E or an S with an F. For example, if police had stopped a car and wanted to check the index number (GR21 VLS) on the Police National Computer (PNC) via radio through the Force Control Room (FCR) then they would probably say something along the lines of “Could I please have a PNC vehicle check in relation to a stop on Grosvenor Road, N12. My collar number is 1268 and the index is Golf – Romeo – Two – One – Victor – Lima – Sierra.” If the officer also wanted to check the personal details of the driver on PNC then “Could I also have a PNC name/person check, surname RANCE – Romeo – Alpha – November – Charlie – Echo, first name STEWART – Sierra – Tango – Echo – Whiskey – Alpha – Romeo – Tango, date of birth 31/04/1972 Male White approximately 6 feet tall.” The police can usually access the PNC and other databases directly via mobile devices these days but there may still be occasions where they need to use their radios and it’s important that communication is clear.
If you watch TV police dramas you may be familiar with a series called Juliet Bravo from the 1980’s which featured police Inspector Jean Darbley. The title of the series was taken from the phonetic alphabet and denoted the police call-sign of the Inspector. Fans of The Bill will also know that the police station, Sun Hill, had the station code ‘Sierra Oscar’ which could be frequently heard being used during radio transmissions.
If you’re writing a scene involving the police then it will add to the authenticity if you think about including a little bit of phonetic alphabet if appropriate. As with all police procedure, you don’t want to have too much but snippets of accurate detail are likely to engage the reader and improve the content of your writing.