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Thread: Plain talk? Or Code?
10-13-09, 01:44 PM #1
Plain talk? Or Code?
October 13, 2009
Police radio can sound like an algebra class, with all those 10-4s and 187s.
But more and more departments are trying a radical approach: asking officers who need backup or want to report a robbery to do so in plain old English.
Late one night in 2005, a police officer on a dark highway in Independence, Mo., radioed in that he had just passed a State Highway Patrol officer's car on the side of a road with the door open.
The dispatcher confirmed his message and said she'd ask highway patrol about it. But something about the patrol car bothered the officer. He changed his mind.
"We're going to start heading back that way just in case, advise us if he's ... if you get word that he's 10-19," the officer said.
He wanted to know if the trooper was 10-19 — code for just fine, out on a call. But this state trooper was not 10-19; he was laying 20 feet away in a ditch, barely alive, shot eight times by a rifle.
This is how the dispatcher relayed that information to the State Highway Patrol: "They have a trooper in the ditch, they are ordering the ambulance, they are also trying to get Life Flight."
That's because 10-33, 10-52, GSW doesn't mean officer down, send an ambulance, multiple gunshot wounds, to the Missouri Highway Patrol. To the highway patrol, 10-33 is a traffic backup.
Because the dispatcher switched to plain English, every state trooper for 50 miles came running. The officer lived, and the suspect was caught in less than an hour.
The Push To Plain English
"In the case of a large-scale disaster, we all have to be able to go on the radio and talk to each other," says Mike Williams, assistant chief of the Chattanooga Police Department in Tennessee. His agency was on the forefront of the switch to plain talk a couple years ago, when officials realized that local agencies couldn't communicate during tornadoes and floods.
"You had 10 different radio systems, and everybody had different codes," Williams says. "It was a nightmare."
Coded police talk came about during the 1920s and '30s, when radio channels were scarce. Officers needed to get on and off the air quickly. They created what are called 10 codes, and then later signal codes. Police also thought the codes would keep things less public. But Williams says that even with different local versions, that's always been wishful thinking.
"The codes are no secret. They've been around for as long as I've been doing this, and the public pretty much knows," he says.
The real push to plain English came after Sept. 11, followed by Hurricane Katrina, when dozens of neighboring police responded to New York City, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans only to be met by utter confusion on the radio. Three years ago, the Department of Homeland Security asked police agencies to voluntarily make the switch. Many departments, such as Midwest City, Okla., have switched.
"We always say tradition is the biggest roadblock to progress, and I think it's tradition in law enforcement," says Brandon Clabes, chief of the Midwest City Police Department. Instead of saying there's a 417, officers now just say there's a man with a gun inside the 7-Eleven store.
It's been so successful, Clabes now asks his officers to write reports in plain English and talk off air in plain English, too.
"I exited my police car, or the suspects fled on foot — you know I got out of my car. I made entry. OK, I walked in the front door. It's just a simple thing," he explains.
A Barking 10-11
Police radio codes were popularized in the 1970s and '80s by cop shows on TV, such as: What's your 20? — as in 10-20, your location; he's 5150 — a mental patient; rap music is full of 187s, which are homicides.
Some departments that still use the codes take it to the extreme. It's not uncommon to hear a dispatcher say a caller is complaining about a barking 10-11.
In departments that use plain English, though, officers say there is a sense that some privacy has been lost. But most have found a work-around.
A few months ago on the streets of Washington, D.C., a police commander asks if an officer is able to talk openly.
The officer pauses.
"Um, just to give you a heads-up, I have a reporter with me who's on a ride-along," he says.
The two men quickly ditch the radio and turn to the latest in police telecommunications: cell phones.
We still use codes here, but it's become increasingly lax over time and there aren't any consequences if you stray from code."Like" us on facebook! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Offic...93147194083228
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10-13-09, 01:54 PM #2
We only use codes for the more mundane things, nothing involving the safety of officers.
All of our license plate, DL checks are done with 10 codes, but domestics, alarms, fights, gun calls, etc, come over in plain english.
Our county wide code for "officer down" or "officer needs help" (10-88) is the same for every department county wide, so I guess we do use that one rather than plain english. I've heard it a couple times. Not a fan.No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends - John 15:13
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10-13-09, 01:59 PM #3
We use 10 codes, can't say if I like plain or code talk, since I have only used code. I think plain talk is the way to go though.Swamp Mafia
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10-13-09, 02:18 PM #4The Reason People Hate Cops & Causer of WarVerified LEO
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We switched to very limited codes about 2 years ago. Before that, my department was a mix; plain talk or code was acceptable.
For the most part, I don't have a problem with plain speech... except that I've noticed that more and more of the new folks take 10 minutes to say anything. Which kind of gets frustrating when you need to get on the air... The handful of codes we've got now cover the stuff that just maybe shouldn't be in plain speech... like a way to say that you're going to be arresting the bad guy or for dispatch to tell you that he's wanted without tipping him off...
I did disagree with the change of the officer in distress code, though. It got changed to what used to be a telephone call... I just see that as a disaster waiting to happen.Voting against incumbents until we get a Congress that does its job.
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10-13-09, 02:51 PM #5
We use a combintation of plain English and codes
Code 0 = Caution
Code 1 = arrival
Code 2 = traffic stop
Code 3 = emergency radio traffic only on specific channel
Code 4 = okay
Code 5 = subject in custody
Code 6 = mental subject
Code 7 = meal break
Code 8 = in-service
Code 9 = wanted subject or other information
Code 10 = Officer needs emergency assistance
Code 11 = routine response for cover
We also have a list of Alpha codes for call dispositions.
Otherwise we use plain English.What if the Hokey Pokey is what it really is all about?
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10-13-09, 03:09 PM #6
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10-13-09, 04:17 PM #7
We use limited 10-codes, mostly clear voice though. I am all for clear voice but a few codes are needed, such as a code for "secure your radio" before giving warrant or wanted info to an officer in the presence of the offender.
Several years ago a dispatcher, voice excited, sent me to a 10-43. That was not one of the limited codes that we used. I asked what a 10-43 was and dispatch said "Man with a gun". When I cleared the call I went to dispatch and asked the dispatcher if he had to look up the code for "man with a gun" before he gave it to me. He said he did. I asked him "Then what makes you think I would know it off the top of my head?". He got the point.*************************"It wouldn't take much for me to up and run...to another life somewhere in the sun."*************************"There's something inherently wrong with having to put on a bullet-proof vest and a gun to go to work."-(An old friend)
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10-13-09, 05:01 PM #8
We use codes. We don't have any fancy codes for types of crimes. Those just get dispatched as their Penal Code #. ie a homicide = 187 P.C. a Robbery = 211P.C.'Political Correctness is a doctrine fostered by a
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10-13-09, 05:58 PM #9
My dept. keeps flip-flopping on which way it wants to go. So anymore you get a wide variety of combinations of the two being heard over our radios.CHIRP! CHIRP!
10-13-09, 07:22 PM #10
We use plain talk for just about everything with a couple of exceptions (party has a warrant or a bomb threat).The views expressed in the above post are the sole opinion of the author and do not reflect any official position by the author's employer and/or municipality.
10-13-09, 08:02 PM #11
We have switched to plain english but some of us have taken old school back. We are using ten codes more often and a lot of the newer guys are confused because they are not taught ten codes in basic anymore so we have to switch back plain english. Oh well!I'm ready for spring!
10-13-09, 08:49 PM #12
I was going to say too, that the agency using 10-codes would use Cross streets which I LOVED - But the PD where I do Citizen patrols use Block Numbers.
Since they don't expect us to be perfect on the radio, I use cross streets unless I see an address, because they just don't make streets signs that I can read the block number off of when we're moving.
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10-13-09, 09:59 PM #13
I think one if the key things is having everyone using the same system. Here every agency in the county uses the same codes. So no matter which dispatch you are talking to or officer you are helping everything is the same.
10-14-09, 01:47 AM #14
We dumped the codes years ago. Too many troops on the street on a busy night for all that number stuff. Some of the old timers still use a code occasionally but you don't hear it much any more. Hell, our old code system is different than the next county over so it's just too much trouble to try to use them.
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10-14-09, 06:35 AM #15
We used plain talk, the Colonel couldn't remember the codes so he dumped them.
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10-14-09, 11:19 AM #16
I prefer plain talk mostly as long as users aren't engaging in lengthy conversations. That's a little irratating. Officer in distress here is usually noted by the higher octave of the voice not a code. And that, in my opinion, works well.Do not war for peace. If you must war, war for justice. For without justice there is no peace. -me
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10-14-09, 12:44 PM #17
Both places I've worked required me to have an extremely thorough knowledge of the hundred block system. Where I work now borders northeast Denver. I know by heart every hundred block from 2300 east to 18500 east (north of our zero line we use numbered avenues) and I have a passing knowledge of of the other sides. It's required in FTO. IMO only learning you street rotatin and not the hundred blocks doesn't give you as thorough a knowledge of your geography. You give me an address in my city, hell anywhere in the metro area really, and if I can't tell you the exact location including the side of the street, then at least the nearest intersection.
I almost never use cross streets to advise my location unless I'm actually IN the intersection. If something hits the fan I don't want my cover wondering where in relation to the intersection I am. Whether I'm on X street or Y street, and how far from the intersection I am. Two biggest pe peeved are when officers scream for help and give their cross streets rather than a hundred block and we get there and they're actually a couple hundred feet away from the intersection making it that much harderto find them. Or the guys that take up all kinds of air time calling stuff out because they don't know or more likely forgot their hundred blocks. Instead of saying "I'm in the 6-2 hundred block of Main St." they say shit like "I'm at Main St. and Smith St. And just to advise I'm just a little west of Smith St. on Main." UGH! Don't be that windbag! Learn your freaking hundred blocks. Especially when a particular cross street might not cross your roadway at that particular location.
10-14-09, 03:14 PM #18
Theoretically the UK now has a countrywide compatible radio system. You can talk to any one in any of the force areas. It doesn't always work but on the whole is succesfull.
This has meant that we are all supposed to be working to the same national 10 code. However some areas seem reluctant to ditch their own versions.
Not too many people use the 10 codes and it is mostly plain english. However it does seem the younger officers seem to rattle on when on the air.
I believe longer serving officers remember when radios were poor and very hit and miss. Your messages therefore had to be concise.
Radio transissions are all about A. B. C. Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.
It also seems to be the case that no one knows there patch anymore, always asking for directions or postcodes for their sat navs.
I am often to be heard shouting at the radio "get a map" when I can't get on the air for a long list of directions!
However I am particularly sad (every 100 metres on the motorway is a marker post with a number) if you give a marker post number on my 30 miles or so of motorway I can visualise which particular 100 metres that is!
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10-14-09, 07:14 PM #19
10-14-09, 08:27 PM #20
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