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Va. State Police Swap '10-4' For 'Message Understood'

Trooper Steve Mittendorff's first reaction to the idea of dropping 10 codes was:
Trooper Steve Mittendorff's first reaction to the idea of dropping 10 codes was: "You've got to be kidding me." (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Mittendorff said he worries about troopers encountering greater danger now that their coded language has been stripped bare for anyone with a police scanner to understand.

"The public never knew what we were talking about," he said.

Virginia officials said they have created a simple set of four signals for cases in which police officers need to get radio information confidentially -- for example, if a suspect is on a terrorist list. As for the secrecy of the old 10 codes, Essid said, that's largely a myth.

"A lot of these codes are on the Internet," he said.

Still, traditional cop talk will not disappear easily. Officials in the Washington area have been talking for months about taking a common approach to the issue, but it hasn't happened. Montgomery has gotten rid of codes, but Prince George's County hasn't. D.C. police have kept a handful of 10 codes.

Even in Virginia, the record is mixed. Alexandria police tried to abolish codes a decade ago but reverted. The codes were more effective, said Lt. James Bartlett, a spokesman, and they limited the time long-winded officers were on the radio.

But, clearly, the attraction goes beyond efficiency.

"It's just our own little language," said another officer on the Alexandria force, Capt. Hassan Aden. He uses 10 codes so instinctually that his 4-year-old son has picked them up. When the boy has soccer practice, for example, Aden says: "Hey, come on, we've got to 10-18," or hurry. Dinner is "10-7 time."

His police officers switch to common language when working with other departments. Still, after years of code, they must make a conscious effort to speak plain English.

"It's like a different language," he said.

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