From ABC 7 News:
Va. State Police Abandoning Ten-Codes
Location: RICHMOND, Va.
Posted: November 13, 2006 11:07 AM EST
Virginia State Police are adjusting to a new law enforcement language: plain English.
This month, state police abandoned the "10 codes" used by generations of in law enforcement and celebrated by popular culture in movies such as "Convoy" and the CB radio craze of the 1970s.
Over the years, however, individual police departments have adapted the codes in their own ways, creating confusion when they have to work together.
For months, officials in Richmond have worked with police and firefighters to come up with a substitute for 10 codes, finally deciding on a statewide "common language protocol." In other words: English.
"My first reaction was, `You've got to be kidding me,"' said Trooper Steve Mittendorff, 26, as he patrolled the Dulles Toll Road. "How am I going to stop using something I've been using all these years?"
The switch underscores why it is so challenging for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to create a national system of emergency response. In Arlington, for instance, "10-13" means "officer in trouble." To Montgomery County police in Maryland, the same code means "request wrecker."
Virginia State Police encountered the same problem deploying troopers to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
"Their 10-codes didn't match ours," Maj. Robert Kemmler said. "We kind of had to come up with, or use, common language on their radio system because they didn't understand what we were talking about."
The "10-code" system dates to the 1920s when police radios had only one channel. Officers needed to relay information succinctly to avoid tying up the system. But over time, a Babel of codes developed.
The system worked fine until the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. Law enforcement agencies found that sometimes they were speaking in different tongues.
"You didn't know what they were talking about," Capt. Richard Slusher, communications officer for the Arlington Fire Department, said of other responders.
After Sept. 11, federal Homeland Security officials required first responders to use plain English in events involving other agencies. Still, many officers used the codes for day-to-day use within their departments.
Some officials fear such officers will revert to their own 10 codes under the stress of a disaster. That's why Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine decided to urge all first responders to switch to plain language full time.
The demise of the "10 codes" is being lamented by some in law enforcement who say the codes have a certain cachet.
"The jargon is one of the things that sets the cops apart," said Tim Dees, a former police officer who is editor of Officer.com, a Web site run out of Beltsville, Md.
"It adds," he said, "a certain mystique."
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