10 Sounds Associated With Police Work

We associate events in our life with certain odors and specific sounds. Experts say that smell is the most closely related to memory.

As a result, I previously had fun writing an article titled, “What Does Police Work Smell Like?”

Now I’d like to identify 10 sounds that I correlate to a career in law enforcement.

Racking Action of a Shotgun

The racking action of a shotgun brings back many memories, from training scenarios to a gangbanger who tried to intimidate my partner and me one night without any ammunition in the gun. … And he almost died from his own stupidity.

Yet the foremost memory I have is racking the action of our Remington 870s during pre-shift inspections when checking out a patrol unit prior to going into service. By policy, we were expected to disengage the shotgun from the rack, break it down to ensure no one used the barrel as a trashcan, make sure it was equipped with 00 buck, then re-assemble an unloaded firearm before placing the ammunition back into the magazine-tube and rendering it safe before re-mounting it in the shotgun rack.

Late in my career we replaced the shotgun mount with a patrol rifle. Nevertheless, it’s still the racking of a Remington 870 that brings me back to my days in uniform.


When I was a boy, I pretended to be a motor officer while riding my gold Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat. Naturally, I “rolled code,” complete with my own sound effects, everywhere in my neighborhood, because each call was life or death.

As a man, when I became a police officer, rolling Code 3 with lights and siren seemed like I was living a dream. However, as a cop, I quickly transitioned from the make-believe world of a child, to the reality that lights and siren usually meant someone was severely injured, or about to become victim to something tragic.

Now that I’m retired, I hate the sound of a siren since I know there is a good chance that a person is experiencing the worst day of their life, if not the final chapter itself. 

make entry

(Photo courtesy Eric Jackson)

Ratcheting Sound of Handcuffs

A set of Peerless linked handcuffs were in vogue as I began my career. Getting them engraved with my name and ID number would prove valuable to ensure they found their way back to my possession when multiple arrestees were transported from a complex crime scene.

I remember being taught as a new guy in the academy to set the cuffs to the final click before placing them in my basket-weaved leather pouch. Completing this important step meant it would be easier to place “the hooks” on a suspect during an arrest situation. After hearing the sound of ratcheting handcuffs for so many years, I can actually visualize the faces of many arrestees during my tenure.


Handcuffs and asp hanging in my “museum.” (Jim McNeff)

Sally Port Garage Door

When transporting a prisoner for booking in our facility, we’d drive into an underground garage, then into a secure sally port that was adjacent to the jail. When the sally port overhead garage door was rolling up or down, it had a distinct noise that equated to “10-19 with 10-15” – arrived at the station with a prisoner. 

Jail Door Closing

Whether the heavy steel door is on hinges or rails, is solid or barred, when a jail door slams shut, it is an unmistakable sound. Moreover, the person on the inside has just lost his freedom.

The city police department that employed my services had a temporary holding facility that we called our jail. But it was merely the first stop for the arrestee before heading to county jail for longer-term residency.

Our jail was equipped with solid steel doors that weighed a ton—or at least they appeared that heavy. When they closed, it seemed like the building shook.

F.U. from Arrestees

Hearing an arrestee say, “F.U.” just seemed different than someone on the basketball court yelling the same thing. The specific expletive from an arrestee had the sound of bitter venom. Don’t ask me what bitter venom sounds like, but I know it when I hear it.

Flushing Jail Toilet

The sound of a flushing jail toilet may not make your list, but when I closed my eyes and “heard” the sounds of my career, this was among them.

The toilets in our jail seemed like they flushed 1000 gallons of pressurized water with each cycle. Of course I’m exaggerating, but with this kind of force, a small person walking by as the toilet flushed was susceptible to being sucked into the sewage.

This was also the last sound we’d hear each time we loaded a prisoner for transport from our facility to county jail, or at least it was suppose to be, since we made arrestees flush before leaving their cell.

Tires Chirping in the Underground Garage

To hear tires chirping in our underground parking garage meant officers were responding from the station on a hot call, or to help a colleague in duress. To this day, if I hear tires chirp or squeal in an underground parking facility, my mind travels back to my days as a cop flying out of the station to help a partner in need.


Gunfire is a sound that I attribute to police work, but not from hearing weapons fired during the commission of a crime. No! I associate the sound of weapons firing during monthly qualification at the range, and for 12 years of my career, a second range day per month during SWAT training. Based upon rough calculations, I’ve heard my weapon fire about 30,000 times, and probably as many as 500,000 rounds fired by other officers when I’ve been present.

I never thought about it until now, but that’s a lot of gunfire!

healthy organization

(Photo courtesy Thomas Marchese)

Police Radio Broadcast in the Background

When your career involves law enforcement that means you’ve spent a fair amount of time conducting business inside the police facility. With all the cops and detectives roaming the halls, conversing in the lunchroom, shuffling from one location to another, there is always a police radio in the background. And the ears of a cop are able to tune in to important data like no other. When certain codes are used or the pitch in a voice changes, your ears tune in, even if you’re uninvolved.

What Sounds Do You Associate With Police Work? 

These are 10 sounds that came to mind when I thought about police work. It’s certainly not all-inclusive, but they are a few of the distinct noises that were redundant during my career. What sounds do you associate with law enforcement?

Author’s note: After completing this piece, several friends reminded me that the sound of Velcro should have made the list. Suddenly, I experienced one of those, “How did I forget that?” moments. There is no doubt the unique sound of Velcro, which originates with the removal of body armor, should find its way into the article. So there you have it, Velcro makes the cut.

Jim McNeff, partner and managing editor, Law Enforcement Today