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

What Is a BOLO?

Police officer checking a radio on his shoulder
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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 by dispatchers based on specific criminal intelligence. They include information on 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. BOLO is one of those slang words that can be more accurately known by other names, such as an "All Points Bulletin" or an APB.

APBs are information bulletins sent to police officers across all points of a jurisdiction, and sometimes into neighboring jurisdictions or even across the country as well. It depends on where a suspect was last seen and where he is believed to be headed. 

Another term for BOLO is "Attempt to Locate" or ATL. These bulletins 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 BOLOs that are issued when a child is kidnapped or missing and is believed to be at risk for serious injury or death. All pertinent details about the child and the incident are entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system.

When BOLOs Are Issued

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 an original 911 call 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 welfare or safety. This is particularly true when it looks like it might be a missing persons 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.  

When an Officer Receives 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.

Police officers can temporarily hold an individual identified in a BOLO to determine whether they are, in fact, the suspect or subject of the bulletin. Officers will most likely arrest the suspect if the BOLO is criminal in nature and when officers can confirm that the individual is indeed the suspect.

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