22 September 2013
14 August 2013
“Copy that, 10-4.” These numbers operate as an internal lingo between police officers. So what do the numbers actually mean? Well, when an officer says “10-4”, he or she means “OK,” or any variation of spoken acknowledgement e.g. “Got it,” or “I understand.” This raises some pertinent questions. Why use coded language? Wouldn’t it be easier to just say the words? Well, the answer to that depends on the situation at hand.
Numerical codes allow officers to speak to each other about sensitive topics without everyone in earshot deciphering their conversation. This is especially true when they’ve gotten a tip, but they’re not sure if it’s actually valid — yet. For example, if the public overheard officers talking about a bomb threat, or an armed suspect nearby, then people would panic and chaos would ensue.
Police codes were extremely valuable in the earlier days of radio transmission because signals were not as strong as they are today, and numbers were much easier to comprehend over static than complete sentences.
This list of universally recognized codes called the 10-Codes, which is comprised of 99 numerical entries that officers use to signify a) what’s happening and/or b) what they need from the other officer. While some of these codes, like 10-4, are still used today, many of them became obsolete due to the favorable nature of spoken language, as well as the strength of modern day radio signals. Some of the other, more serious, 10-codes that are still used in some areas are:
- 10-15 Civil disturbance
- 10-16 Domestic disturbance
- 10-29 Check for wanted person
- 10-31 Crime in progress
- 10-32 Man with gun
- 10-33 Emergency
- 10-34 Riot
- 10-35 Major crime alert
- 10-39 Urgent -- use light, siren
- 10-50 Accident (fatal, personal injury, property damage)
- 10-55 Suspected DUI
- 10-57 Hit and run (fatal, personal injury, property damage)
- 10-70 Fire
- 10-89 Bomb threat
The Hundred Code
Police officers in many states use the Hundred Code, which is also a numerical language used to signify specific events that are taking place. States penal codes attribute different meanings to the numbers, but California’s code is the most well known. Here are some of them:
- 187 — Homicide
- 207 — Kidnapping
- 207A — Kidnapping attempt
- 213 — Use of illegal explosives
- 242 — Battery
- 245 — Assault with a deadly weapon
- 261 — Rape
- 502 — Drunk Driving
Codes Are Everywhere
While police officers may be the most well-known users of coded language, there are many other places where codes are utilized to maintain discretion. They are usually public places such as hospitals, train stations, shopping malls, schools, etc. Many places have codes that are so secretive that you’d never even know that a code was being transmitted.
For example, hospitals use color codes in the form of doctor’s names, so that when they announce them over the intercom, it doesn’t raise any eyebrows. Every hospital has it’s own meaning attached to certain color codes, but you might hear, “Paging Dr. Green.” This sounds like they’re calling a doctor with the last name Green, but what they’re really doing is alerting personnel that there is a “code green,” in the building.
Ashley Welter is a blogger from San Diego, CA. She writes about various topics including crime, law enforcement, and safety tips.