Understanding Police Scanner Codes and Lingo
A voice crackles over the police scanner “there is a 211 in progress on Burbank Street.” Just about every American has heard words like those in one form or another on TV and movies. Police codes are used as shorthand for communication among law enforcement teams and are a very familiar, iconic representation of American police officers.
The History and Origins of Police Codes and Jargon
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials developed this system of codes, slang terms and the acronyms used by law enforcement officers before World War II. The idea was a Morse code type system like what the Navy used to communicate between submarines. By 1935 APCO officially released their guidelines to be used by law enforcement officers. However, the method was not fully employed until 1937. Along with the codes, the guidelines spelled out additional mandates such as:
- Standardized messaging to be used by all police officers.
- A structured format for all messages with the same information in the same order always.
- Codes for common offenses.
- Standardization of record keeping.
Because radio frequencies are limited for law enforcement, keeping communication brief became critical. This system of codes helped to abbreviate the process and get messages passed quicker and easier. In 1955 APCO published the 10 Codes and police precincts began using them shortly after that.
The Purpose of Using Codes and Lingo
The purpose of this abbreviated form of speech is to reduce the number of words necessary to convey quick messages back and forth between police officers. These codes concisely describe situations, people, places and even property. Although the codes vary a lot by country, there is also some slight variance by region within the U.S. The shortcodes used over police radios represent common phrases. Another reason police officers use these codes is to conceal what they are talking about in case a perpetrator or civilian is listening.
Types of Police Codes - Ten Codes and Eleven Codes
The most common and well-known police codes are the 10 Codes formally termed the APCO Project 14 Aural Brevity Code. These codes were invented between 1937–1940 but expanded in 1974. Probably everyone knows the phrase 10-4 meaning, “I understand.” That comes directly from the 10 Codes the police use every day.
The 11 Codes are also used in different areas to convey intra-departmental messages. The eleven codes were developed to further conceal radio communications amongst law enforcement officers and expand upon the coded messages available.
Most Common Police Codes and Differences in Different Police Departments
Most police departments use the 10 Codes liberally and the most common you will hear are:
- 104 Affirmative, I understand.
- 106 I am busy.
- 109 Please repeat your message.
- 1010 Negative.
- 1012 Standby.
- 1013 Civilians are present and listening.
- 1018 Urgent.
- 1022 Disregard.
- 1061 Personnel in the area.
- 1078 I need assistance.
Some additional 10 Codes, which represent dangerous situations are:
- 1032 Person with a gun.
- 1034 Riot.
- 1071 Gun involved with the intent of firing.
- 1072 Shooting in progress.
- 1079 Bomb threat.
- 1080 Bomb exploded.
- 1094 Drag racing.
- 1096 Psych patient.
- 1098 Jail/Prison Break.
- 10100 Dead body.
The most common 11 Codes used by law enforcement are:
- 116 The illegal discharge of a firearm
- 117 Prowler
- 118 Person Down
- 1110 Take a police report / conduct an investigation
- 1112 Injured animal
- 1113 Dead animal
- 1114 Dog bite victim
- 1115 Ball game in street
- 1124 Abandoned vehicle
- 1125 Traffic hazard
- 1126 Disabled vehicle
- 1127 Driver’s license check, please rush
- 1128 Vehicle registration check, please rush
- 1129 Person is clear, no warrants
- 1130 Missing person
- 1131 Need help (Officer needs assistance)
- 1141 Ambulance needed
- 1144 Fatality / Death
- 1145 Suicide / attempted suicide
- 1148 Transport
- 1150 Field interrogation
- 1151 Security check
- 1179 Traffic Collision – ambulance responding
- 1180 Traffic Collision – with a major injury or injuries
- 1181 Traffic Collision – with a minor injury or injuries
- 1182 Traffic Collision – with no injury
- 1183 Traffic Collision – no additional details
- 1184 Direct traffic
- 1185 Tow truck needed
- 1186 Special assignment
- 1199 Officer needs help or assistance
There are also additional codes used called penal codes. Some examples are:
- 187 Homicide
- 207 Kidnapping
- 207A Kidnapping attempt
- 211 Robbery
- 211A Robbery alarm
- 211S Robbery alarm, silent
- 217 Assault with intent to murder
- 240 Assault
- 242 Battery
- 245 Assault with a deadly weapon
- 246 Shooting at an inhabited dwelling
- 261 Rape
- 261A Attempted rape
- 273A Child neglect
- 273D Felony wife beating
- 288 Lewd conduct
- 311 Indecent exposure
- 314 Indecent exposure
- 374B Illegal dumping
- 390 Drunk
Some police departments like customizing this list for their own use and will add codes appropriate for their specific area.
Acronyms and Other Codes
Along with the 10 and 11 Codes, law enforcement uses a lot of acronyms to stand for police procedure, descriptions of individuals and processed within the system. Some of the most common abbreviations to describe offenses and situations are:
- ADW: Assault with a Deadly Weapon
- B&E: Breaking and Entering
- DIP: Drunk In Public
- DOC: Department of Corrections
- DUI: Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs
- DWI: Driving While Intoxicated
- DWS: Driving While Suspended
- DWLS / DWLR: Driving While License Suspended / Revoked
- DUS: Driving Under Suspension
- FTA: Failure to Appear
- GTA: Grand Theft Auto
- LFA: Larceny from Automobile
- MIC/MIP: Minor in Consumption/Possession of alcohol
- PI: Public Intoxication
- UUMV: Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle
- Fel.: Felony
- Misd.: Misdemeanor
- Inf.: Infraction
- DOA: Dead On Arrival
- AKA: Also Known As
- APB: All Points Bulletin
These lists are just a small sampling of the vast library of codes that all types of law enforcement use every day to make their communications more concise, practical and easily understood.