Speaking in Code

A COPS watcher's guide to obscure police Ten Code

click to enlarge TEN BLUE LINE: Don't bother trying to eavesdrop, - unless you know the "10" lingo the Blue Men use. - WWW.RCCD.CC.CA.US
TEN BLUE LINE: Don't bother trying to eavesdrop, unless you know the "10" lingo the Blue Men use.

America is obsessed with law enforcement. We always have been. A quick perusal of the TV listings might lead one to believe that variations on the cop-show theme are more popular now than they've ever been, but it's not true; we've just got more channels now.

Sure, nobody was watching forensic technicians look for bloodstains with ultraviolet light 30 years ago. (They weren't glimpsing David Caruso's buttock, either.) Thirty years ago, audiences weren't yet sick of seeing a vaguely philosophical detective and his loose-cannon partner chase bad guys down fire escapes.

The angles have changed, but the current slate of more complex, minutiae-minded cop-shows doesn't represent a larger degree of interest in law enforcement so much as it simply reflects contemporary society itself. Due to an overwhelming amount of available information, we know a little bit about stuff like carbon dating, DNA mapping and prosecutorial technique. Not much — just enough to make us think we could be experts if we knew a little more. And in true American fashion, we'd rather get our education via our favorite entertainment medium — and preferably accompanied by either a fictitious love triangle or a real decade-old corpse buried with a bloodied hammer under some trailer — than from a lecturing criminologist, thank you.

We're a more information-oriented culture these days, and many of us want a more gritty, realistic, information-oriented police action-docu-drama. But at the end of the show, it still comes down to the same thing: the good guys, in pursuit of (and hopefully in dire danger from) the bad guys.

Nothing illustrates this fact more than the stupefying initial success and continuing cult infatuation enjoyed by the series that heralded the cop-show's new wave, COPS.

In many circles, the seminal reality show is considered ironic kitsch, so bad it's good. The badly lit, shaky, as-it-happens COPS is the polar opposite of slick, dense, stylized fare like CSI or The Wire. It's certainly a progenitor of the detailed, reenactment-heavy Cold Case Files, The New Detectives and their ilk. Compared to any of those, however, it's a no-budget dinosaur, black-and-white silent film vs. CG and Dolby.

But COPS is exactly like everything that's followed, in the sense that it provides a wealth of information about police procedure. In fact, to attentive viewers, it tells more about the details of real-life cop-work than any dozen Forensics Files clones.

Which leads us to the subject of "Ten Codes." Ten Codes are a semi-standardized method of radio-transmission shorthand employed by virtually every public safety service in the country. The dispatcher or officer uses the number 10 to let the other know what follows is part of the code (as opposed to an age, address, etc.), then uses another number to specify a condition, response or request.

A surprising number of the codes are universal. We've all heard truckers say "10-four"; it's the code for "acknowledged" or "transmission received." Action/ commando movie fans have doubtless heard the phrase "what's your 20?" spoken into a walkie-talkie or two — 10-20 is the code for location.

Obsessive COPS watching led me to be intrigued by the subject. The Internet provided a wealth of information, including the knowledge that patrolmen use Ten Codes for everything from road conditions to a request for a warrant search. This made watching COPS a hell of a lot more fun, along with the added benefit of making me look like some minor, anal retentive deity to the folks with whom I watched it.

But I was hearing Ten Codes I couldn't find on the Net, particularly during episodes set in Florida. (In case you haven't noticed, an inordinate amount of episodes transpire here — I think we're second only to Washington State's most meth-riddled provinces.) A few enigmatic numbers cropped up again and again. This led me to suspect that the Ten Codes have become far more detailed and situation-specific than available materials would have one believe.

And so, over weeks of round-the-clock COPS vigils — you can watch it pretty much non-stop from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m. every night, you know — I compiled a list of what I believe are the 20 Ten Codes comprising its secret upper register. Listen for them.

10-113: Indignant Crack Whore

10-114: Woman Buying Heroin for "Friend"

10-115: Woman Beaten by Man in Trailer But Won't Press Charges

10-116: Man Beaten by Woman in Trailer But Won't Admit It

10-117: Man Wants Woman Removed From Property She Owns

10-118: Man Robbed During Drug Buy, Wants Money Recovered

10-119: Man Passed Out While Committing Burglary

10-120: Man Only Had a Couple of Beers

10-121: Intoxicated Man Stealing Bicycle Still Doesn't See Me Sitting Here

10-122: College Student with Transvestite Hooker, Doesn't Know

10-123: Trucker with Transvestite Hooker, Obviously Knew But Is Pretending He Didn't

10-124: Have Locked Keys in Cruiser

10-125: Skinny Gay Black Couple Arguing Again

10-126: Have Located Suspect, But Bring Dog Anyway

10-127: Naked Intoxicated Kid Being Videotaped By Friend

10-128: White Middle-Class Man in Bad Neighborhood — Initiating Traffic Stop

10-129: Black Kid in Nice Car W/O Custom Rims — Initiating Traffic Stop

10-130: Shirtless Latino Man with Tattoos Loitering — Request Backup

10-131: Old Gary Peg-Leg is up at the Ram's Head Saloon Yelling About The Fucking Gooks Again

10-132: Will Be Parked by the Freeway in a Seemingly Vigilant Position if You Need Me

Contact Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or [email protected].

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