No more 10-4: Police codes switched to Plain Language

Posted on Feb 7, 2012 in Plain Language Blog Articles

Maryland is the latest state to eliminate the 10-codes in favor of using plain language to make it easier to communicate during emergencies and with other, non-police, departments.

For example, instead of saying “10-46,” police will now say “disabled vehicle.”

In addition to confusion over the codes themselves, not all police departments used the code to signal the same problems. That means conversations among police departments was particularly difficult during emergencies.

According to a recent article in (Maryland Community News Online) written by Jeremy Arias,

Under the former system, several significant misunderstandings used to take place between Montgomery officers and state troopers, Felsen said.

“To them a ‘10-50’ was a routine traffic incident, but in the Montgomery County system prior to 2006, ‘10-50’ was an ‘officer in trouble’ call,” he said. “So we had actual cases where people were on the radio and the wrong message was being used.”

The code problem exists not only within police departments but between fire and police departments. This inconsistency was particularly evident during Sept. 11, 2001, when police and fire agencies from across the nation rushed to help.

“When they got there, many of them were unable to communicate with each other effectively,” said Chris Essid, director of the Office of Emergency Communications for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to an article by Sharon Kiley Mack (January 1, 2010) in the Bangor Daily News, nineteen states planned to eliminate the codes in favor of plain language.

Below are the current codes from APCO, an international organization of public safety communications professionals.

We say:  10-15.  Message Delivered.