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End of 10-Codes?

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 54 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2006 Pages: 50-52,54,55
James Careless
Date Published
August 2006
5 pages
This article examines why the Federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is promoting the use of "plain English" instead of a 10-code system when first responders report on what is happening at a scene.
DHS is doing this because the 10-code numbers across agencies differ; for example, in some agencies the 10-54 code may mean a fatal car accident has occurred, but in other agencies it may mean "dead animal in the road," or a "coffee break." In proposing the use of "plain English" in communications, the DHS suggests using short, simple verbal descriptions of what is being observed or done. Using "plain English" instead of a system of 10-codes is particularly important in communications in the course of a multiagency response. This is because the 10-code systems of the individual agencies will typically be different. Using "plain English" will diminish the risk that communications will be misunderstood by personnel from different agencies. Ten-codes were developed in the context of two-way radio systems in the 1930s and 1940s when an entire department was typically operating on a single police radio channel. In those circumstances, it was logical to use short codes that communicated events clearly and quickly. As first-responder radio technology advanced, police departments began operating on several radio bands, and they began having more communications with fire fighters and other police departments via radio, that is, when their radio equipment was compatible with those of other agencies. Although it is possible to continue using 10-codes within a single department, it is not advisable, since the habit will be difficult to change in the course of a sudden crisis that requires multiagency communications.