BOLO in Law Enforcement Code: "Be on the Lookout"

No, it's not a southwestern tie

Cop checking radio
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When you hear a law enforcement officer talking about a BOLO, odds are that he doesn't mean a kind of whip or a southwestern-style tie. In law enforcement terms, BOLO is an acronym that stands for the phrase "be on the lookout."

BOLOs are issued to police officers based on specific criminal intelligence. They include information on all sorts of illegal activity, from reckless driving to robbery and even homicide. BOLOs usually include details about a crime suspect, such as estimated age, race, height, and weight. They might also give vehicle and clothing descriptions to officers when these things are known and are applicable. 

What Are Other Terms for "BOLO"?

Law enforcement officers are known for talking in codes and slang. In fact, it can sometimes seem like they're speaking an entirely different language. BOLO is one of those slang words that can bring about a bit of confusion.

A BOLO is more accurately called an "All Points Bulletin" or APB. These information bulletins are sent to police officers across all points of a jurisdiction, into neighboring jurisdictions, and sometimes even across the country through dispatchers, depending on where a suspect was last seen or where he is believed to be headed. 

Another term for BOLO is "Attempt to Locate" or ATL. Although ATLs might also include information about criminal activity or suspects, BOLOs are usually called "attempts to locate" when officers are asked to check on someone's welfare as opposed to being alerted to a potential arrest situation.

When Are BOLOs Issued to Police Officers?

Police dispatchers issue BOLOs when a crime has occurred and they have information that could lead to finding evidence or to an arrest. This information may come from the original 911 caller or from other officers as they arrive at the scene of a situation.

BOLOs are also issued when there's a concern for an individual's or potential victim's welfare or safety, particularly if it looks like it might be a missing person case. Amber Alerts are forms of BOLOs that are issued when a child is kidnapped and in danger. A BOLO might also be issued when disabled adults or elderly people have gone missing, such as when an individual suffering from dementia has wandered off.  

What Does an Officer Do When He Gets a BOLO?

Law enforcement officers keep their eyes out for the person, suspect or vehicle cited in the BOLO when they receive such an alert. Depending on the nature of the BOLO—especially if someone is in danger or if the police are looking for a particularly dangerous suspect—they might passively or very actively look for the person.

When they locate the person listed in the BOLO, police officers can hold him temporarily to find out whether he is, in fact, the suspect in the bulletin. If the BOLO is criminal in nature and when officers can confirm the suspect, they will most likely arrest him. The officers will simply make sure the person is safe when a welfare-check BOLO is issued.