The end of an era has arrived. Police departments all across the country are abandoning the tradition of using 10-codes when speaking on police radios. Sure, I understand the need to make the switch, but I must admit I’m a little nostalgic about the change.
Nothing sounds more official than the exchange of information on the radio, especially during the middle of the night. And there’s nothing like a graveyard shift dispatcher’s voice when it gently spills into the air from a floor-mounted speaker. Soft, gentle, soothing monotones. Most of them sound as if they used to work as DJs for classical music radio stations.
But change is coming. 10-codes have served their purpose and they’re now settling in to join the other police has-beens—revolvers, hand-cranked sirens, bubblegum lights, and telling bad guys to put down their weapons, and they do.
Why the change? Because many departments don’t use the exact same codes, making it nearly impossible to converse during situations requiring mutual aid from outside agencies. In fact, misinterpreting the codes happens everyday, and often with dire consequences.
For example, one department uses the code 10-99 to indicate a wanted person. A neighboring agency uses the same code (10-99) to indicate a bathroom or meal break. Therefore, if an officer from the first department was in the process of arresting a 10-99 (the wanted person) and subsequently broadcasted the situation over the radio hoping for backup, officers from the neighboring department would assume he was merely taking a nature break.
Even members of a single department sometimes have trouble remembering all the 10-codes, signal seven and eights, Tac channels (tactical), private channels, etc. It can be confusing, especially to newcomers. I remember when rookies referred to hand written cheat sheets they carried in their shirt pockets.
The need to make the switch from 10-codes to just plain English became obvious on 9-11-2001, when emergency crews responded to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York City. The different agencies couldn’t communicate because each used their own adaptations of the 10-code.
It’s confusing. The officer’s conversation with dispatch below is a prime example of just how mind-boggling the use of 10-codes can be for the untrained ear.
Officer: 2112. 10-23 10-31. 10-17. I’ve got a 10-14 in custody. 10-52 may be needed if this clown resists one more time. 10-4?
Dispatch: 10-4, 2112. 2117 10-6. 2118 and 2119 2112 10-34. 2014 hours.
Officer: Everything’s 10-4. 10-23 10-25 2118 and 2119 and have them disregard.
Dispatch: 10-4. 2115 hours.
Geez…Could things get much more confusing than that gobblety-gook?
The need to switch is obvious and very necessary, but I still think I’ll miss my 4 a.m. 10-99.
Or was that a 10-98? Oh well, I’m 10-7. 10-4?