10 CODES will stay in place... for now

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Jan 26, 2008
now residing in Ocala, Florida since 1999
Tri-county officers not fans of federal push for plain-talk

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 12:14 AM EST

Tri-county law enforcement agencies continue to adhere to the 10-code radio communication system despite the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ongoing push for agencies to switch to plain language.

The 10-code system was developed in the late 1930s because police radio channels were limited and the messages needed to be brief, said Capt. Dennis Strow, assistant bureau chief for community policing in Marion County.
The Department of Homeland Security encourages agencies to switch to plain talk so when emergency situations occur, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, all departments can effectively communicate with one another, Strow said.

The number-based language allows police officers to quickly relay information to dispatchers and fellow officers, he said. Many emergency-response agencies recently switched to the 800-megahertz frequency, which creates more traffic on the airways, too, he said.

“When people use plain talk they have a tendency to get in a long dissertation of what happened,” Strow said. “The 10-code cuts down on air time and is very much to the point. With plain talk you run the risk of something being missed and tying up the radio.”

For example, Marion County sheriff’s deputies can report a “signal 4” at a certain intersection instead a more descriptive notification of a vehicle crash at an intersection.
Lt. John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said officers have used the 10-code system for years to abbreviate radio-frequency communication. Also, information can be communicated via a code that prevents suspects from listening in and being forewarned, he said.

“Some would argue that it saves time, but just as many others would say that using plain talk is every bit as short, simple and effective,” Herrell said. “I think the opinions out there would be pretty evenly divided on the issue.”

Herrell doesn’t think agencies are reluctant to switch over, because several departments throughout the states now use the plain talk system, he said. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is considering the transition, he said. However, since Lake County dispatchers work for five other police departments, they will have to be included in that decision-making process, Herrell said.

The 10-code system has been successful throughout the years, but some departments across the nation are switching to plain talk, acknowledged Lt. Nehemiah Wolfe of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

Personally, Wolfe finds it more straightforward to use plain-talk radio communication because, he pointed out, he doesn’t use the 10-code system regularly enough to stay fluent in it, as do the patrol deputies, he said.

The 10-code system can create some barriers, because departments’ 10-code systems vary slightly, Strow said.

Departments may tailor the codes to their needs, he said. Some communities might need more codes pertaining to bicyclists while others could need codes to accommodate a greater frequency of more serious crimes such as robberies, Strow explained.

The law-enforcement representatives agreed that in the case of a natural or manmade disaster with multiple agencies involved, emergency personnel would use plain talk to eliminate any possibility of confusion among departments.

“We’ve recognized for a long time that different agencies may have different codes and signals, so anytime we’ve ever had to communicate in such a situation we’ve automatically resorted to plain talk right off the bat,” Herrell said.
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