Inside Police Radio Communications: A Tell-All

January 4th, 2016

The mysterious world of police officers has fascinated people for many years, as evidenced by the popularity of cop shows on television. Are you curious to know what goes on inside police radio communications and how they keep each other well-informed and their communities safe? Spend a few minutes reading this article to find out!

History of Police Radio Communications
The first police department to recognize the usefulness of two-way radio communications was in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1933. They began using two-way radios in their patrol cars, giving officers the ability to speak with headquarters and other units instead of only being able to receive calls. Detroit was the next city to adopt the use of two-way radios for their officers, and this soon became standard in all police vehicles. Today radios are used not just by dispatchers to send police units to crime scenes, but by the officers themselves to request backup and to update their supervisor about the situation.

Police Radio Codes and Signals: Much More Than Just 10-4
Many police radios are encrypted to prevent people from listening in. For the ones that aren’t, it is possible to listen in to police radio communications with a police scanner. Since a police officer has to quickly communicate many different kinds of situations to headquarters so that further action can be taken, a brevity code was developed in 1937 to facilitate this critical communication. Called ten-codes, this collection of numbered codes was originally used to overcome limitations in early radio transmissions, when first syllables of a word were often difficult to understand. The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials – International (APCO) further developed the code into the one police use today. However, many organizations have their own 10-4 codes, which makes it very confusing when trying to decipher the meaning. Certain codes, such as 10-4 (affirmative, message received), 10-7 (out of service) and 10-20 (location) are standardized, but many others aren’t. In recent years, there has been a push by certain groups to replace 10-4 codes with plain language.

A Sampling 10-4 Codes
Here is a small sampling of police 10-4 codes.

10-1 Receiving poorly
10-2 Receiving well
10-3 Stop Transmitting
10-4 Message Understood, O.K.
10-5 Relay message
10-6 Busy, stand by
10-7 Out of service
10-8 In service
10-9 Repeat Message
10-10 Negative
10-11 On Duty
10-12 Stand by
10-13 Existing Conditions
10-14 Message/Information
10-15 Message delivered
10-16 Reply to message
10-17 En route to…
10-18 Urgent
10-19 Return to station
10-20 What’s your location

You can also see a more complete listing of APCO 10 Codes.

About Police Scanners – Is It OK To Listen In?
A police scanner is a special kind of radio receiver that can quickly check or “scan” many different channels. It lets you listen in on two-way radio calls. People will often have a scanner so they can keep apprised of local police activity in their neighborhood. Though they’re called police scanners, you can often use them to listen in to fire departments, hospitals, air traffic controllers, schools, military, retail stores and utility services. As for whether it’s permitted to listen in to police communications, it depends upon where you’re located. In nearly every state, it’s legal to listen in. However, certain local ordinances make it illegal. For example, in Los Angeles, you must have a permit to listen to a police scanner. In New York, mobile police scanners are illegal. Whatever the law is in your region, is always a good idea not to listen to one in close proximity to an officer.

The Next Generation of Police Radio Communication: Encryption
Before you run out to purchase a police scanner, you should know that many law enforcement organizations are starting to encrypt their radio communication in the interest of security. There may be a concern with media outlets hearing about police activity and compromising a crime scene. The last thing police need is for a suspect to receive advance notice of a supposedly secret sting operation. When radio transmissions are so easy to listen in to, it makes the police’s job that much more difficult. There are currently debates going on regarding whether encryption is a good or bad thing, so you will no doubt be hearing much more on the subject.

Categories: Walkie Talkie Lingo

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