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

It can relate to a missing person or a criminal suspect

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 "be on the lookout."

BOLOs are issued to police officers based on specific criminal intelligence. They include information on all sorts of illegal activities 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. 

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.

It's more accurately called an "All Points Bulletin" or an APB. These information bulletins are sent to police officers across all points of a jurisdiction and sometimes into neighboring jurisdictions or even across the country. It depends on where a suspect was last seen and where he was believed to be headed. 

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

Amber Alerts are forms of BOLOs that are issued when a child is kidnapped or missing and is believed to be in danger.

When Are BOLOs Issued to Police Officers?

Police dispatchers issue BOLOs when a crime has been committed and they have information that could lead to finding evidence or to an arrest. This information can 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 concern for an individual's or a potential victim's welfare or safety. This is particularly true if it looks like it might be a missing person case.

A BOLO might also be issued when a disabled adult or elderly person has 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 identified 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 that the individual is indeed the suspect, they will most likely arrest him.

Officers will simply make sure the person is safe when a welfare-check BOLO is issued, such as by escorting him home again.