Monday, December 28, 2009

English Replacing My Favorite Police Codes

Unlike some of my peers in the twilight of their lives, I don't spend too much time lamenting the good old days. Yes, I feel saddened that my chosen profession in the newspaper business has failed to repair its economic model which has turned it into a dinosaur.

But it did come as a shock that police departments throughout the country are phasing out the radio dispatch police codes and replacing them with common English. I mean this transformation has nothing to do with the incredible technological advances we have experienced in our and our parents' lifetimes.

I made my bones in the newspaper field as a police reporter. There were certain police codes that triggered entire newsrooms into action. One was 11-99, an officer in deep trouble. In California, much of the state penal code was reduced to radio dispatch communications lingo.

Movies and television series made some of the call letters universal. Actor Broderick Crawford said 10-4 so often it became a joke. They even made a series with the call letters One Adam 12. The series "CHiPs" made famous the call letters 10-40, 10-29 and Code 3. I was always partial to Code 7 which meant a lunch break.

When I was first assigned to the cop shop, all the tools of the trade were simple. A scanner, telephone, phone books, Thomas Bros. maps, pencils, notebooks and a copy of 31 of the most used police codes.

Some of the veteran beat officers at San Diego Police Department used the codes to good humor. An 11-50 was a person believed psychotic. A radio dispatcher asked the officer to confirm his 11-50. "At the moment, I would evaluate him as an 11-49 and a half," the officer responded. Replied the quick-thinking dispatcher: "10-4, Officer Freud."

Without fail, the officers I interviewed always said the "415 domestic" calls were the scariest. They never knew when one of the parties to the dispute would turn on them.

After listening to the police scanner for eight hours, I would sometimes return home and still talk in cop code. During one Christmas season in the 1970s, I blurted to her: "Guess who got booked on a 502 last night?"

"What's a 502?" she asked.

"Drunken driving."

"Who, then?"

"Ted Geisel of 'Dr. Seuss' fame."

"The childrens' book author?"

"Yeah. My lead was "This is the story how the Grinch got pinched."


"Not really," I said. "The editors said they don't publish drunken driver arrests."

My son overheard my after-work discussions. He memorized all 31 police codes at the age of six. At that early age he decided to be a cop. He did and has enjoyed a marvelous career so far spanning 16 years.

I haven't listened to a police scanner for years and can't imagine the radio traffic without those wonderful codes.

10-4? and a mighty Code 5, y'all.


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