Sail cats flying low over the Las Vegas desert

In our previous post, we described the origins of one bit of law enforcement lingo, the creepy-crawler, but only eluded to meaning of another, the sail cat.

So here’s a repost of a 13 January 2011 offering, about how a 19-year-old cub reporter learned just what exactly is a sail cat.

Way back in the late Pleistocene, esnl landed his first job on a daily newspaper.

The venue was the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a heady place for a 19-year-old’s introduction into the world of daily journalism.

Among the beats we covered was night cops, “because that’s where we start reporters with no experience,” explained the editor, Jim Leavey.

But covering the cop shop in Sin City after the sunset was anything but a dull beat, particularly so when I was the lone reporter working for the night edition, a street paper written to shock jaded casino workers out of their dimes at shift change.

“Beef it up, Brenneman,” was a frequent command from night editor Dick Calhoun, leading to lots of adjectives to paid six-paragraph stories into ten, twelve, even twenty grafs: “A homeless man set himself on fire” became “Flames seared the corpse of a Las Vegas man.”

Working the cop shop also required a sharp ear to catch the all the squawks from the newsroom bank of police radios.

We’re a quick study, and within a couple of week’s we’d mastered the “ten codes” and the Nevada Penal Code sections needed to decipher the otherwise cryptic, static-laden calls that formed a constant background beat to the ongoing symphony of teletypes, ringing phones [they actually rang back then], and sometimes boisterous newsroom chatter.

But one two-word phrase left me stumped: “You gotta sail cat on Paradise just south of Flamingo,” or “Handle a sail cat on Sahara just north of the parkway.”

Back in those days, reporters could look over the crime reports filed by responding officers, a task which required a request to the desk sergeants at the police and sheriff’s departments. But nowhere in the reports did I ever come across the words “sail cat.”

One evening we heard the mysterious phrase just before setting out on our rounds, prompting a question to the burly, grizzled officer behind the desk at the LVPD.

Usually the officer was a study in surly indifference, but this time his eyes briefly lit up.

Cocking his head back, he suppressed a smile, pursed his lips, then gave a little snort.

“Well, kid, it’s like this.”

We nodded.

“You know how sometimes cars run over cats?”

We nodded again.

“Well, if you get to ‘em right away, they’re a real mess to clean up.”

Another nod.

You got all that blood, and sometimes there’s guts , brains, that type stuff. A real mess.”


“If you’re a few hours later, they can really stink. And then there’s all those flies. Pick up one of those things an you’ll never get rid of the stink in your car.”


“So what ya do is wait til the sun and the pavement bake all the juices out. And the traffic smashes up all the bones.”

“Yeah. . .”

“By then, they’re just a dry flat hairy circle on the pavement.”

Another nod.

“Well, then all you have to do is pry it up off the pavement and flip it off into the desert like a Frisbee.”


“So that, son, is what ya call a sail cat.”

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