What Are Police Scanner Codes?

Police scanner codes, or 10-codes, are short alpha-numeric combinations used by law enforcement officials to communicate necessary information over radio frequencies. Police scanner codes were first used in the early 1920s because radio technology was limited and shared, and communication needed to be short, states the National Institute of Justice.

While short, concise communication is vital to law enforcement, police scanner codes are not standardized and can often differ between law enforcement agencies, reports About.com. More sophisticated communication technology and an increased need for communication between agencies drives a movement to replace police scanner codes with plain language, states the National Institute of Justice. In fact, migrating from 10-codes to plain language is strongly encouraged by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as of 2015.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, an agency of the DHS, published a brochure outlining the need for plain language in emergency situations and a four-step transition plan for migrating from 10-codes to plain language in four steps: assess, plan, equip, and train and use. By following FEMA’s plan, agencies identify the target decision-makers and key players in emergency communications, provide ideas for developing the new communication protocol, develop and adopt new standard operating procedures, and effectively train the necessary staff and emergency personnel. The brochure and other helpful guides are available to the public on FEMA’s website.