For decades, police across the country have used numerical codes to quickly communicate with one another.

(Soundbite from audiotape)

Unidentified Man #1: 1722 Franklin Avenue, 329 on top of a vehicle.

Unidentified Woman #1: 10-4. One body?

Unidentified Man #1: 10-4.

NEARY: Well, we're all familiar with 10-4, which basically means, `I received and understood your message.' But some officers use more than 100 of these codes to convey everything from indecent exposure to a suicide attempt. The National Incident Management System, a subdivision of FEMA, has ordered state and local agencies to adopt a clear-spoken message based on common terminology, and that means that police codes are over and out. Departments must drop across the country--have to stop using these codes by 2007 or they will no longer qualify for federal grants.

Joining us now is John Kazlauskas, chief of the Owensboro, Kentucky, Police Department, and he joins us by phone from Owensboro, Kentucky.

Can you explain this change for us?

Mr. JOHN KAZLAUSKAS (Owensboro Police Department): Well, it's certainly gonna be a change for us. Of course, we've been using 10-code since our inception and we certainly made an attempt to go to plain language some years ago, and found that it really didn't work that well for us because our officers had the tendency to revert to slang and talk in long sentences. So at that time we reverted back to the 10-code.

NEARY: Why is it they are asking you to change it now? Do you know why now?

Mr. KAZLAUSKAS: Well, you know, there certainly is going to be a need, and the logical thinking behind the program is that law enforcement and first responders across the nation need to be on the same page of the music, you know. Once we get into a communications system that could be statewide and nationwide, we all need to be speaking the same language. So there is a reason for it, and we certainly agree with it.

NEARY: What are some of the codes, and what might the translation be into plain English? I wonder if you can give me an example or two.

Mr. KAZLAUSKAS: Well, of course, there are several different codes. Different departments use different codes, and we have a signal code and we use the 10-code, and of course, like you said earlier, everybody knows what 10-4 is. 10-28, transportation--I mean, a 10-28 would be ask for registration on an automobile license plate. And, of course, our concern is, as some of our people have been using the 10-code, it's gonna be--it's not that it can't be done, but it's gonna take a little while to revert to plain English. So what we're doing here in Owensboro is we're developing a word phrase list where everyone is on the--knows what a word means, you know, as far as disregard, you know. We want all our officers to know that, you know, that certainly means never mind, but it does not mean to cancel the run. That would be, you know, cancel, you know. You know, the word ascertain, we want...

NEARY: Well, Chief Kazlauskas...

Mr. KAZLAUSKAS: ...everyone to know that ascertain means find out, you know.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. KAZLAUSKAS: Just simple things like that.

NEARY: I've got to say over and out, Chief Kazlauskas.


NEARY: Don't know how to say that in numbers, but thanks for joining us.


NEARY: John Kazlauskas is the chief of the Owensboro, Kentucky, Police Department, and he joined us by phone from Owensboro, Kentucky.

And I just want to remind all our listeners that this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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