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How should one address a police officer in English speaking countries? More specifically, in a non-emergency situation—asking directions for example—what is the expected form of address used to call a police officer's attention?

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coincidence I suspect. The American officer was just a surly character. Or in a bad mood. Or at the end of his shift... –  slim Feb 24 '12 at 17:26
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Did you call accidentally someone sergeant who had a different rank than that? That might have put them off if they were actually of a higher rank, but that’s no excuse for being surly. Maybe the American officer was just in a bad mood. BTW, it’s something of a military thing to call someone by their rank, which has spilt over into the constabulary. Outside situations like the military and such, we nearly never use titles anymore in regular English, at least, not compared with the Germans. –  tchrist Feb 24 '12 at 17:44
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American police officers can sometimes be like French waiters. Hard to find when you need them, and rude when you have found them. But "sir" always works with the men. –  Canis Lupus Feb 24 '12 at 18:54
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I've personally had pretty bad results with ociffer, but YMMV. –  Phong Feb 27 '12 at 18:07
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"Officer" is the typical address in the US for a uniformed officer. For a plain-clothes detective, "Officer" will probably irritate them and "Detective" is the appropriate address. If you know enough to recognize their rank insignia, addressing them as "sergeant" or "lieutenant" or whatever would also be acceptable, but using the wrong rank might put them off. –  lindanaughton Feb 28 '12 at 15:56

6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

They are all officers of the law, so "officer" applies no matter what their rank ("Pardon me, officer...").

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Yes, I've tried "officer" as well, but have had similar results, so I'm wondering whether I'm not doing something wrong in the US. –  raxacoricofallapatorius Feb 24 '12 at 17:47
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Either he was having a bad day, or perhaps he's simply a jerk. Unprofessional behavior in any case. –  Gnawme Feb 24 '12 at 17:59
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I suppose if he was just promoted to captain after a long hard struggle, he might be frustrated that you called him "sergeant". But really, unless you're calling him "pig" or something, I don't see why he should be offended. I once visited a college campus where the security guards had recently been officially designated police officers by the state, and not really thinking about it I referred to their building as the "security office". One of them forcefully informed me that it was a "police station". I guess they took being real-live police officers instead of rent-a-cops very seriously. –  Jay Feb 24 '12 at 18:40
    
@raxacoricofallapatorius You might not be doing anything wrong, and even if you were, you might not be aware of what it could be. But I doubt it's because you used "officer" to address a police officer. –  Chan-Ho Suh Aug 19 '12 at 0:54
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I've had "state troopers" be very offended by calling them "officer" instead of "trooper". –  corsiKa Oct 30 '12 at 18:09

I've lived in Britain all my life, and I don't think I would use any particular word to address a policeman. It's seldom necessary to use an appellation in a typical British conversation. Indeed, it would seem odd.

In the US, people seem to like calling each other "Sir" and "Ma'am" as a mark of respect, and I see no reason why that wouldn't be appropriate with a police officer.

If you must use an occupation-specific appellation, then you can use the person's rank. But that requires you to recognise their badges, or you risk getting the rank wrong. AS @Gnawme observes, "officer" is always OK.

Any policeman worth their salt, of course, will treat you politely whatever you call them (unless you abuse them).

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@raxacoricofallapatorius: nothing is simple. I'd say there would be a tendency (in AmE) to use 'sir' or 'ma'am' in response to an officer (and almost always in Southern AmE: "Yes, sir, officer"). –  Mitch Feb 24 '12 at 17:48
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@Mitch: That must be regional: I don't think the phrase "yes, sir, officer" has been uttered here in New England since the Civil War. –  raxacoricofallapatorius Feb 24 '12 at 17:51
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@raxacoricofallapatorius One is taught always to address an officer of the law as sir or maam as appropriate for their sex. It would be considered rude not to do so — and being rude to a police officer is always a really bad idea. –  tchrist Feb 24 '12 at 17:52
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I agree that "madam" is pretty much out of date. But "sir" and "ma'am" are very common words for addressing people whose names you do not know, regardless of their occupation or status. In the place I've lived, anyway, which means the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West. The stereotypical salesman's query is, "Can I help you, sir?" People often say things like, "Excuse me, ma'am, you dropped your cell phone." Etc. –  Jay Feb 24 '12 at 18:34
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@tchrist surely that depends on the deity! –  slim Feb 29 '12 at 11:03

When in doubt, ask. This sort of thing does vary from one region to another. When you find yourself in a new place and you're not sure what the local custom is, there's nothing wrong with asking politely: Excuse me... I'm new to this area. How should I address a police officer such as yourself?

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I don't see the harm in calling them 'constable'.

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You must come from a different country than I do or else enjoy strange looks. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Feb 24 '12 at 20:18
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The latter. In the US, its use might ensure their attention. :) –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Feb 24 '12 at 20:23
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If you're going to do that in the US, at least fake an English accent. –  Chan-Ho Suh Aug 19 '12 at 0:56

In Japan, we adress police officer just casually as “Omawari-san" meaning "Mr. (Ms) police (officer),” though I’m afraid I’d be laughed at when I did so in UK and US.

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No, you wouldn't be laughed at. I think that that is a reasonable thing to do. I have done similarly. Police, like most people, will respond more favorably if using Mr. or Ms. if there is uncertainty. If you don't know the individual's name (one needs to stand very close to read name tags), this can happen. I do that with all public servants i.e. government employees. Mr. Mailman, for example, when trying to get the attention of someone. It is cautious, but you will not offend. Mr. Police officer or man or woman acknowledges their official status as officers of the law. –  Feral Oink Oct 28 '12 at 14:04
    
"Mr. policeman" sounds overly condescending to my ears. I'd certainly love to see someone addressing a policeman like that. –  user38459 Feb 28 '13 at 12:36

I would suggest a neutral "mister/miss/comrade policeman/policewoman".

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Comrade Policeman? You some kinda Commie, bud? –  TimLymington Mar 21 '12 at 15:24
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Comrade Policewoman?? –  Daniel Mar 21 '12 at 17:42
    
@Daniel δ why not? nydailynews.com/archives/news/… –  Anixx Mar 18 '13 at 12:08
    
That's not used as a form of address, that's a description of the other policewoman's relation to her. Just as "fellow worker" is fine (my fellow workers are great!), but it would not be normal to say "Fellow worker, could you come over here?" Plus, comrade is the wrong relation. To illustrate, the article you just referenced uses it as a term describing the relation of one police officer to another officer of essentially similar position, and in that case it cannot properly be used between a civilian and a police officer. –  Daniel Mar 18 '13 at 18:13
    
@Daniel δ no. If it was saying "...and her comrade, policewomen Gertrude Schimmel..." then it would clearly mean a fellow worker. But it says "...and comrade policewoman Gertrude Schimmel..." similar to "...and miss policewoman Gertrude Schimmel...", "...and mister chairman John Smith..." –  Anixx Mar 18 '13 at 19:21

protected by RegDwigнt Feb 28 '13 at 12:59

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