Saturday, September 17, 2005

10 Codes

Those of us lucky (accursed?) enough to have a job in law enforcement talk in 10-codes on the radio. We don't talk in code when speaking face-to-face. The surest sign of a rookie is someone who speaks in 10-codes when not on the radio. I don't know the origin of the code system, and I know that it varies from state to state. What I might call a 10-33 (network is reserved for emergency traffic) here in Louisiana, someone else might call by a different code. The CB radio boys picked up the 10-codes during the Smokey and the Bandit phase of Americana, and the long-haul truckers used it over the roadways with some regional variations. 10-codes are a vital piece of the law enforcement culture.

One of the most used 10-codes is 10-8. When you go 10-8 you let your dispatcher know that you are "in service, available for call". Most codes have opposites. For example, the opposite of 10-8 might be 10-6. 10-6 means "Busy". As in "I am busy doing what you last sent me to do."

Dispatchers and supervisors respect those codes. The dispatchers have a sergeant there, usually an officer of great experience and knowledge. The sergeant knows that when you are - - working a wreck, for example, you might have eight or ten things going on at a single time. You have rubber-neck traffic to deal with, you have tow-trucks to deal with. Maybe an ambulance or two, and maybe a fire truck. You have relatives showing up, cluttering up your traffic, to pick up the walking wounded, or inquiring about the nearest hospital, or wondering where the tow-truck hauled the debris. Not to mention the paperwork. You are in fact, 10-6. Busy.

The dispatcher, on the other hand, has to clear her calls. She (all personal pronouns are generic) has a list of incoming calls that need attention and a list of units available to service those calls. It is her job to get units rolling to protect and serve the public, to assist the officers on a call by sending the assets the officer needs, and to keep the sergeant amused during a long shift. A sergeant and a dispatcher are partners, just like the two officers in the cruiser are partners.

But, the sergeant knows how busy a routine call can get, and when you are 10-6, he (again, all personal pronouns are generic) will prevent the dispatcher from giving the officer another call. Lets say, for the sake of this exercise, that I am in unit 920. The radio conversation might go like this:

Dispatch: "Dispatch, 920"

920: "920"

Dispatch: "Are you able to go 10-8?"

920: "negative. The ambulance just got here and I have a wrecker standing by. It'll be a few minutes. I'm still 10-6."

The sergeant might ask again in 10 minutes, but they won't give you another call until you are finished with the first one. We can only do one thing at a time, especially when that one thing actually has ten or fifteen things going on simultaneously. As soon as you go 10-8, you'll get the next call, and it will be a long night when calls start stacking on the dispatchers log.

All this to tell you about 10-codes, and to let you know that for the next several hours, I'll be 10-6 at the range.


Standard Mischief said...

I thought you were going to talk about the trend to speak in plain language over the radio. FEMA is asking local police to end the practice of 10 codes. As you mentioned, the ten codes are not the same nationwide. That's not really a problem until you start using the mutual aid frequency and start talking to the out-of-town folks.

I have a (radio) scanner, and you can be sure that after Katrina, it's going in my G.O.O.D. bag. It's the easiest way to figure out what the heck is going on in an emergency.

Pawpaw said...

The reason we have 10-codes is because people have scanners. There is a lot of information passed on police radios that I might not want the public to know. Some of those things involve bodies, and proper notification to the relatives and next of kin. You don't want to hear about a dead relative, but you really don't want to hear about it on the scanner.

Unless we go to encripted radios, we will continue to use brevity codes. There is a whole lot of information that I can pass using 10-codes that doesn't clutter up the net like plain language. If we go to encrypted radios, all your scanners won't work, anyway.

Actually, the communications revolution that we have undergone in the past ten years has made our job easier and more complicated. For example, during Katrina, all the repeaters and trunks went out when the flooding began. There were no police communications in New Orleans during the height of the crisis. Each of the agencies that responded had their own radios, but they were away from their repeaters. In any event, the batteries on the handheld radios went dead after about 24 hours of use.

Needless to say, we learned a lot and our commo planners have work to do.

Standard Mischief said...

Yea, I'm planning to blog about this soon. Don't like the encrypted radios one bit as a rule. I can understand why some information you might not want to have immediately broadcast. I can even see some small amount of data that should not be broadcast at all (names of rape victims, etc) But to hide every little bit of conversation behind a wall of encryption, and requiring fifteen steps and a form filled out in triplicate, in blue-black ink to access what our hired protectors are up to reminds me of jackbooted thuggery.

Haven't you ever had a scanner listener call in to 911 because they have seen a suspect? They run stories like that all the time in the scanner magazines.

I assumed the 10 codes came about when all the police radios were tube gear and transmitted AM. Unless you guys start using random codes, changed every week, the ten codes are no problem. Here's a excerpt of the list in my G.O.O.D. bag for my locals


10-10 Busy but available
10-14L Escort Detail; Liquor
10-14W Escort Detail; Wide Load
10-15 Prisoner in Custody
10-18 Arrived on scene
10-31 Assignment complete; No Report
10-32 Assignment complete; Report taken
10-36 Advise correct time
10-37 Identify operator
10-95 Advise of previous records

Event Signals

1 Contact station
1I Contact station immediately
5 Suspicious vehicle; unoccupied
6 Suspicious vehicle; occupied
6I Intoxicated driver

Also, I figured out all by myself what a “number 2 male” is.

The other advantage is I can roll out of bed at 4 am and figure out why the heck the police chopper is orbiting my neighborhood. That happened 3 weeks ago. I got the locals programed in on channel 42.

Standard Mischief said...

That's a 10-4 on plain language for cops