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What Does Code 4 Mean in Law Enforcement?

What Does Code 4 Mean in Law Enforcement - Brooking Industries

What Does Code 4 Mean in Law Enforcement?


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Communication is essential with any type of emergency management system. Law enforcement officers, fire departments, and first responders all use special codes in order to communicate accurate information quickly and efficiently. What may seem like a foreign language to us, is actually a very elaborate system of codes that law enforcement officers rely on to share information with one another.

Some people believe that it is a secret language to keep the public from knowing what is going on. This is far from the truth. A quick Google search will provide you with a complete list of not only the general codes, but also the 10-code and 11-code systems that are still in use throughout the country. While there has been talk over the years of doing away with all of the code systems, many areas still use them.

What Are Police Codes?

Police codes, especially the 10 codes were developed in the 1920s. At the time, public safety two-way radios were in their infancy. These one-channel radios were used extensively from the 1920s into the 1980s. 10-codes were created to weed out the confusion when the single-channel radio became overwhelmed with chatter from several officers dealing with multiple events.

With the 10 code system, officers were able to communicate within and across departments, providing accurate information without clogging the radio with an excessive amount of chatter. In addition to 10-codes, general codes and the 11-code system were also developed. In the beginning, the public not knowing what the codes meant worked to law enforcement officers’ advantage. Today, the codes are more for convenience than trying to keep the public in the dark.

Why Are Police Codes Used?

In the beginning, when police codes were initially developed, they were used to reduce chatter over an already crowded one-channel radio system. By using the 10-code system, officers were able to provide information to others in their department quickly, efficiently, and accurately without taking up a lot of the valuable air time that was needed by other officers.

Even when more elaborate radio systems were developed, the general codes and 10-codes were still used extensively throughout the country. The different code systems are extremely efficient. Even though certain areas of the country have used different variations of the code system, it still remains in use as the primary form of communication when it comes to law enforcement, fire departments, and first responders.

What Does Code 4 Mean When You Hear It on a Police Scanner?

Code 4 simply means “no further assistance is needed at this time”. Law enforcement officers take many calls during their work day. Some calls are quick to resolve and an officer is back on the road to the next call in a matter of minutes. Other calls will require one or more officers to be called in as reinforcements.

If an officer calls for back up and the situation resolves itself, they will normally send out a Code 4 over the radio so dispatch can let other officers know that assistance is no longer needed and they can resume taking calls on their own. If it’s quiet, an officer may respond anyway just to ensure that the first officer is safe and finishing up with their call.

10-4 versus Code 4

10-4 and Code 4 are completely different codes and one cannot be used to replace the other. 10-4 is a part of the 10-code system, while Code 4 is a general code. A Code 4 message means that an officer no longer needs help and can handle their situation on their own.

When an officer says 10-4, it means “yes” or “affirmative”. Most officers will use a 10-4 response for almost any question that requires a yes answer. The use of 10-code responses is common when they are off the clock as well, much to the dismay of their family and friends.

If you are unfamiliar with how each one is used, it is easy to confuse the two. The friends and family members of most law enforcement officers can easily distinguish between the two since the LEO in their family will use the codes frequently at home simply due to habit.

When Is Code 4 Used?

Code 4 is mostly used by law enforcement officers or first responders who are at an event in which they are able to resolve the issue on their own. Officers are trained to be fairly self-sufficient, but there are times when having a fellow officer nearby can be both reassuring and comforting as well. Most officers will not send out a Code 4 call unless they have no doubts that the scene is secure and that they are safe from any threat.

The thin blue line stands firm. Even if an officer calls Code 4, other officers will respond if they are not already on a call. This is often times out of courtesy, but it is also a sign of unity and protection so that their fellow officers know they are not alone. It’s a common occurrence for a second officer to show up and assist without a call for help ever being put across the radio. Once the situation is resolved and everyone is on their own, one or both officers may call a Code 4.

Are Police Officers the Only Ones Who Use Code 4?

Most emergency management services use general codes, 10-code, and 11-code systems. First responders and civil defense personnel also use the code systems. While they are not universal across the country, the codes are generally the same throughout a designated area. The codes were developed mainly for law enforcement officers, but over time, other emergency personnel adopted it for the sake of convenience.

Ham radio operators also use general codes and many of the 10-codes, as well. The codes used by ham operators are more consistent than those used by law enforcement. Ham radio operators communicate with individuals across the United States as well as the world and do so quite effectively through their own jargon and set of codes. It’s important to remember that most ham operators will not have the need to report a bomb threat, suspicious vehicle, or the need for an investigation.

Can Anyone Use 10-Codes?

Anyone who knows the 10 codes can use them as long as they are not able to communicate over the same frequency as law enforcement. Most law enforcement agencies scramble the frequency of their scanners so that walkie-talkies, ham radios, and CB radios cannot break into the channel. Many police scanner channels can be listened to, but the listener cannot break into the stream and disrupt the lines of communication between law enforcement, EMS, and dispatch centers.

Is It Easier to Use Plain English?

Over the years, many communities have considered eliminating the use of 10-codes and general codes. They believe that since newer radios are available and there are many more ways to communicate, the code systems are no longer needed. In a way, this may be true. There are many law enforcement agencies that have chosen to keep the code systems in place. They are convenient and easy to use, providing everyone on the same frequency to know what is happening at any given time.

Plain language may be easier to understand but it also takes more time to elaborate than if the code system is used. There are people who believe using plain language simplifies a call. Many police officers beg to differ. The codes used by police are detail-driven. When an officer is in a state of stress or pressure, they may miscommunicate vital information that can cost them or others near them their lives.

Once a code has been called on the radio, other details can be given to support the initial call. This allows dispatch and other officers to first know what is going on and be prepared for details to follow. The police training they receive provides them with the information they need to communicate effectively and expeditiously.

Cops, homeland security, EMS, fire departments and other police personnel are all given adequate instruction in the different police code systems. Whether a municipality chooses to continue using the radio code system will be up to their government officials. Most will keep a public safety communications officer on hand to help decipher codes if and when they are ever used. The code system is still quite effective and is in use across the country.

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