I'm wondering whether 'police' and 'police officers' are interchangeable in the following in American English:

  1. Twelve police officers / police were killed in the shoot-out.
  2. More than 20 police officers / police were called to the crime scene.
  3. Several police officers / police were killed in the shoot-out.

The noun 'staff' cannot have the number specified as in 'the company has 20 staff' in American English. I'm not sure that's also true of 'police'.

  • you can say 20 staff members or 20 members of the staff. But police can be a count noun.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 2:24
  • Yes, "police" and "police officers" are interchangeable in those sentences. But in my idiolect "police officers" is much more common in such sentences. I think a good answer to this question will cite frequency data comparing these constructions.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 2:52
  • 1
    Generally, "policemen" would be a closer equivalent to "police officers". "Police" tends to be used to refer to the organization vs individuals in it.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 3:44
  • 1
    "Police Officers" is the preferred modern American English term, as it's more gender-neutral than "Policemen".
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 5:21
  • I am not asking about which one is the preferred form gender-wise; rather, i'm asking whether 'three police' sounds natural in American English (without a following 'officers').
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 6:19

1 Answer 1


In AmE, police generally refers to a group of law-enforcement personnel, and police officers refers to the individuals serving in that role, although the latter varies by country: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_officer

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