The Gatehouse Blog

Police blow the whistle on 10 codes

I’ve just stumbled upon a great story about jargon at work.

Earlier this month state police in Virginia, US, abandoned their much loved ‘10 codes’ in favor of plain English. Used by generations of officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel as shorthand during radio conversations, 10 codes had begun suffering from multiple meanings. In Arlington, for example, the code “10-13” means “officer in trouble”, but in Montgomery Country, Maryland, it means “request wrecker". You can see the danger. 

The system worked fine until the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon at which point emergency crews from different states discovered they were speaking a completely different language. Firefighters from one state were using one set of codes, while police and paramedics from elsewhere used another. Just imagine the mayhem.

So, to clear up the confusion 10 codes have just been banned in Virginia and, in its place, they’ve introduced the new ‘common language protocol’ (ironically that’s jargon for plain English). So out goes "10-4" and in comes "message understood". Makes sense to me.

Here’s what the Washington Post had to say.

And finally, here’s my own little selection of 10 codes for internal communicators, just in case you feel like cranking up that old CB radio…

  • "10-4" – ok, message received (when you’re doing your job properly)
  • "10-11" – talking too rapidly (when you’re sending out to many emails)
  • "10-28" – identify your station (when underground newsletters start appearing)
  • "10-42" – traffic accident at (when messages collide due to bad planning)
  • "10-75" – you are causing interference (for use with any meddling board member)

That’s it for me from today, over and out.