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Decoding Police Codes: Everything You Need to Know

Editorial Team
Updated May 16, 2024
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What are Police Codes?

As you delve into the gripping world of law enforcement on television, you might hear an officer urgently report a "10-34" over the radio. This police code can signal drastically different scenarios depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, in New York City, a "10-34" could indeed mean a riot, as per the NYPD's official radio code guide. However, if you're trying to decipher the police code for a dead body, you'd be listening for a different set of numbers. In many areas, the code "10-54" or "10-55" might be used to report a deceased person, although these codes can vary by region and department. It's crucial to understand that these codes are designed for concise and clear communication among officers, as highlighted by the National Institute of Justice. By familiarizing yourself with these codes, you gain a deeper insight into the procedural language that shapes the narrative of your favorite crime dramas.

These codes were originally created by The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). They are a shorthand of sorts intended to facilitate communication over police radios. While they are typically thought of as being associated with police, other emergency personnel also use similar systems.

Police codes usually involve combinations of numbers, with numbers starting with a 10 or 11 referring to situations and other numbers being used for specific crimes. There are also some codes that use letters, much like acronyms.

Just about everyone has heard of "10-4," meaning "OK," or "message received." Here are a few more police codes:

  • 10-15 — prisoner in custody
  • 10-85 — will be late
  • 11-10 — take a report
  • 187 - homicide
  • 311- indecent exposure or loud and obscene
  • 459 - burglary
  • 502 — drunk driving
  • APB — All points bulletin
  • DB — dead body
  • UL — unable to locate

Again, exact definitions of police codes can vary, but now you can be a bit more informed the next time you hear the jargon. Some people like to use scanners to listen to police radio broadcasts. It can simply be an entertaining hobby, or in some cases it makes people feel more secure because they know exactly where crimes are being committed in their area. Make sure you're aware of all local laws and regulations concerning police scanners before you decide to listen in for fun.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Discussion Comments
By amdream007 — On Dec 19, 2010

license is clean means no active warrants and no restrictions. he has numbers refers to prior convictions and has a Department of Corrections number which is permanently assigned to him.

By anon131909 — On Dec 04, 2010

What is the meaning of, his license is clean but he has numbers!

By anon65489 — On Feb 14, 2010

anon58597: I am most certain I am no nerd or loser, and I am striving to become part of the law enforcement team. It is a job to serve the public and the government.

I was a bartender, too -- does that make me an alcoholic? The public looks at the cop position like it takes a certain person. Well, it does: a strong will and mind. Imagine what they have to endure on a daily basis. Walk a day in someone else's shoes and maybe you would know what you are talking about.

By anon58597 — On Jan 03, 2010

Cops are also complete nerds that get picked on in the real world so they become cops for the power. People would rather get yelled at by a nerdy cop than knock one out and get shot and thrown in jail for a few years. And they know that.

Cops are complete wimps and rarely come out of their houses because they know in the back of their mind how much of a wimp they must have been to choose a career because they thought it would make them a hero, but the fact of the matter is that the community doesn't like the police. And as soon as they figure it out, its too late.

Their wife is sleeping with a guy who works normal hours and she wants to be able to hang out with real people again. I personally had a tight-knit group of friends and one ended up being a cop and almost instantly he was the guy nobody wanted to be seen with.

And after a year or so when i ran into him i could tell that he knew he made a mistake and after a couple years he was a completely different person. He was a cop and i felt bad for him but after talking to him i disliked him a lot.

By jabuka — On Apr 26, 2008

There are several different codes that police use. The 10 codes,such as 10-4, are internal codes that officers use in their daily routine, among themselves and the dispatch center.

There are other codes, such as Penal codes 459PC(Burglary), 487PC(Theft); Health and Safety Codes, 11357H&S(Possession of Marijuana); Vehicle Codes, 10851VC(Taking vehicle without consent) and others.

They are used by officers when a crime occurs and a report is being filed, or a suspect is being arrested and charged with a specific crime. These codes are also being used for statistical purposes, when crimes and arrests are being compiled for internal use, and for reporting purposes to agencies such as Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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