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Most Frequently Used Police Codes and Their Meanings: A Waste of Time or a Must?

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There are a huge number of police codes used by officers around the country. In fact, there are dozens. These police codes and meanings are not known by much of the public: in fact, most people know “10-4”, and that’s about it. With dozens of codes to remember, are they really necessary for officers to know, or are they a waste of memory?

Well, admittedly, some of them are more necessary than others.

The Most Frequently Used Police Codes

As mentioned previously, there are several dozen police codes in use. We don’t have the time to go over literally all of them, which is why the list below focuses only on the most frequently used police codes for the most important situations.

  • 10-15: Prisoner in Custody
  • 10-17: En Route
  • 10-18: Urgent/Complete Present Assignment ASAP
  • 10-23: Arrived at the scene
  • 10-32: Person With Gun
  • 10-33: Emergency, All Units Stand By
  • 10-54: Possible Fatality
  • 10-79: Bomb Threat
  • 10-80: Pursuit in Progress
  • 10-99: Officer Held Hostage
  • Code 3: Emergency-Proceed With Lights and Siren On
  • Code 4: No Further Assistance Required
  • Code 6: Out of Vehicle for Investigation

Are These Police Codes Necessary?

The main reason police codes exist is to streamline communication and reduce the risk of miscommunication, which is a serious hazard in a line of work that could be life-threatening. The fewer words you have to use to communicate your situation, the less risk there is of someone misunderstanding or mishearing you.

In that sense, some of these codes are very necessary. For instance, the code “10-99” means that an officer is being held hostage. Depending on how tense the situation is, an officer might not have time to say anything else other than this code, so it’s very important to be able to communicate the dangerous situation to someone else very quickly.

On the other hand, it’s a stretch to say that “Code 7”, which means “out of service to eat” is strictly necessary. In a situation like that, an officer would hardly be in a rush to communicate their situation to another officer.

Furthermore, police codes in general are falling out of favor somewhat, since they are not standardized. The meaning of these codes is different depending on the jurisdiction, which means police from different departments can suffer miscommunication because they don’t have the same code definitions.

Because of this lack of standardization and the fact that radio bands are much more extensive than they used to be, thus allowing for more channels and more leeway for communication, the US government has actually recommended that police codes be phased out in favor of plain speech. So, are police codes necessary at all? Well, the government apparently doesn’t think so.


Police codes are used by officers to communicate their situation or plan to other officers. There are codes for many things, from requesting backup to simply informing someone that your shift is ending. Undoubtedly, some of the codes are more important than others, but all of them are intended to make communication more convenient in one way or another.