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Plain talk by police not likely here, 10-4

Do you know what a signal 24 is? Do you know what 10-31 means ?

Maybe not. These signals and codes are part of a special language that Citrus County law officers and emergency workers use on their radios.

We all speak some of this dialect. Everyone knows what 10-4 means. And the general 10-code system will be familiar to CB radio users and truckers.

Otherwise, only officials and nosy people (like reporters) who track action on police scanners bother with the code.

But code usage isn't universal, even in law enforcement. The Associated Press recently reported that the Virginia State Police and some local police departments are switching to plain talk.

So, if there is a robbery, the dispatcher will call it just that.

But in Citrus, it's a signal 24. And it will stay that way, according to Buddy Grant, a district commander for Sheriff Jeff Dawsy.

Grant told me last week that the Sheriff's Office recently experimented with plain talk. It worked fine. And the agency can easily transition to plain talk when working with outside agencies, such as the Division of Forestry or the National Guard, which don't use the local codes and signals.

This is good to know. Virginia's move came after the federal Homeland Security Department urged law officers to make sure they can communicate during emergencies.

In Citrus, the dispatchers' computer system is set up to accept signals and codes, not plain talk, and switching would be awkward.

Plus, there are tactical advantages. In hostage situations it's nice to speak in code in case the bad guy overhears a radio exchange.

Those are just some of the many arguments Grant listed for keeping the status quo. They are all well reasoned.

I concur with the result, but I add some indefensible justifications of my own.

For one, the codes and signals preserve a bit of secret-society mystique. Must we explain everything in exact detail?

What's next, plain talk in football huddles? No more 3X/double right/red dog on 2?

What fun would that be?

Then there is clarity. Let's say the sheriff wants to meet a deputy at Checkers restaurant. The dispatcher would call out to the deputy: "Can you make 10-25 (code for "contact") with the sheriff at Checkers?"


Now consider the plain talk version.

The dispatcher would say: "Can you meet the sheriff at Checkers?"

But that sounds a lot like "Can you beat the sheriff at checkers?"

Imagine the problems that could ensue from this slightly misheard transmission.

The deputy would be put on the spot. Even if he could beat the sheriff at checkers, would it be wise to say so over the air?

In a fit of bravado, he might pick up his radio microphone and proclaim: "Yes, I can beat the sheriff at checkers!"

The sheriff would hear this and take it as a challenge.

In no time, the Checkers meeting would be forgotten and an all-out checkers tournament/smackdown would commence.

All deputies would rush to the battle.

Bad guys would take control of the un-patroled streets. The County Commission would demand to know what part of the sheriff's budget covered board game purchases.

Finally, I appeal on behalf of future generations. To toss aside the language of codes and signals is to consign it to the status of Latin and manual typewriters: recognized, but rarely used.

Don't let it happen. I can't put it any plainer than that.