March 23, 2023


Police Ten Codes: What Does Each Number Mean and Why?

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There are dozens of police codes used by law enforcement, with each of them having a specific meaning. However, some of the most common codes fall in the category of “police ten codes”, such as 10-4 or 10-1. There are dozens of ten codes alone, not even including codes with other prefixes. Here, we’ll tell you what some of the most common ones mean.

List of Common Police Ten Codes

As mentioned previously, there are a lot of police ten codes. We’ve compiled some of the most common in numerical order in the list below. 

  • 10-00: Officer Down
  • 10-4: Acknowledged
  • 10-9: Repeat the Last Message
  • 10-15: Prisoner in Custody
  • 10-17: En Route
  • 10-18: Urgent/Complete Present Assignment ASAP
  • 10-23: Arrived at the scene
  • 10-31: Crime in Progress
  • 10-32: Person With Gun
  • 10-33: Emergency, All Units Stand By
  • 10-54: Possible Fatality
  • 10-78: Need Assistance
  • 10-79: Bomb Threat
  • 10-80: Pursuit in Progress
  • 10-99: Officer Held Hostage

Why Do These Numbers Mean These Things?

You may be wondering why certain numbers mean certain things in these codes. Why does “10-32” mean “person with a gun” instead of “10-33” or “10-57”? Well, simply put, it’s arbitrary. There is no special reason any of these codes are specifically attached to any of these numbers. In fact, the codes are so arbitrary, they don’t even mean the same thing in every jurisdiction.

In one jurisdiction, “person with a gun” might be “10-33”. But in another county’s jurisdiction, “person with a gun” could be “10-50”, or something else entirely. Just like the color, we know as “blue” could have been called “red” instead, any one of the police-10 codes could have had a different meaning attributed to it.

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When the police ten codes were made, important meanings that needed codes were assigned arbitrarily. They are not in any special order, including importance: after all, “10-99” and “officer held hostage” sound really important, but it’s 10-99. There are a lot of much less important meanings assigned to lower numbers. As more meanings needed to be added to the codes list, they were likely just assigned to the next available number.

How Have Police Ten Codes Changed Over Time?

Police codes haven’t really changed since their inception. They function the same way as they did in the beginning, and most of the meanings have remained the same as well. The most that has changed is the number of codes and the creation of codes outside the police ten codes.

For instance, the “10-79, bomb threat”, probably didn’t exist in 1937 when these codes were introduced. But it was added later when that kind of thing became a viable concern. As more and more situations needed to get codes, and the “10” category became too full, other categories were created as well. There’s a long list of “11” codes as well, with the same logic behind them as the “10” codes. 

All of that said, many of the codes introduced way back in 1937 are the same today as they were then, with some slight variations by police jurisdiction. The biggest changes have just been the addition of entirely new codes.

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