Why We Say What We Say & What It Actually Means
For your average person, the terminology used by emergency workers can be about as cryptic as ancient Sumerian. We’ve assembled a list of common terms used by dispatchers, officers/deputies, firefighters and emergency medical workers that you might hear if you drop in a listen to either a scanner or an online scanner feed.
Subject: a person who is usually the subject of a police call; sometimes referred to as a “suspect” if a crime has been committed or perceived to be committed
Unwanted/Unwanted Subject: a person that the caller (reporting party) thinks needs to be moved or removed by police
Info Call: a call for service that is usually either a low priority call or is lowered by a sergeant that either doesn’t require a police response; sometimes the call is lowered because a caller wishes to remain anonymous and, therefore, there exists no witness to verify that a event has happened, or because the call is so old that it is unlikely that it is still occurring
Call Holding: a call that has not been dispatched because it is either a low priority call or because there are no officers available to respond
Phonetic Alphabet: a way of giving a letter without it sounding like another letter; for example A=”Alpha” or “Adam”, B=”Bravo” or “Boy”, etc. There are two commonly accepted phonetic alphabets, the military version which is also used by aircraft, and the civilian version which is commonly used by police/troopers/deputies/security.
10-codes: a set of numeric codes which infer a meaning, such as “10-4” which means “I copy or I acknowledge your transmission” or “10-9” which means “please repeat your transmission”; there is no standard for 10-codes, every department or dispatch center can be different; some agencies use a combination of 10-codes and 12-codes. 12-codes are just like 10-codes but instead of a “10” in the beginning, it’s a “12”. Commonly used 10-codes and 12-codes used in the Portland Metro Area are:
10-4: I understand or have received your radio transmission, or “yes”
10-8: On duty and/or available for radio calls
10-9: Please repeat your radio transmission, or I didn’t understand your radio transmission
10-19: I’m at the station or “in quarters”
10-20: location or “where are you at?”
12-34: has or is having a mental health problem
Clearance Codes: these are the codes used when clearing a call; again, every agency or dispatch center has a different set of clearance codes; sometimes expressed as a letter-number combination (such as Willy-2, or X-ray 1, etc) or as a single letter (J or C, etc) or as a 10-code, or as a 12-code, or any other way that agencies clear their calls.
Code 1: respond at normal traffic speed; no lights or sirens; you get there when you get there.
Code 2: respond using lights only; generally at a faster rate than Code 1 but no siren; assistance needed as soon as possible; units will sometimes use an air horn to get through traffic.
Code 3: respond lights and siren; moving at a generally high rate of speed but while still exercising due caution for the public; assistance needed now; this is generally the fastest response.
Code 4: “everything’s ok” or “we’re fine”, sometimes a 10-code will supplant it since not every agency uses the same terminology or even the same 10-code; usually used when being status checked by dispatch or another unit.
Code Zero: This is perhaps the most frightening thing to hear; this means an officer’s life is in danger and assistance cannot wait; in most settings, all available units will converge on the officer’s location.
Status Check: a term used by dispatchers, supervisors, and officers when trying to figure out whether a unit is still on scene, is ok, or needs assistance.
Slumper: a person slumped over either behind the wheel of a car or on a bench or ground; usually associated with IV drug users or drunks who are unable to maintain consciousness.
Vs or Versus: a common term used when describing a crash or an accident involving two different types of participants; “car vs pedestrian”, “truck vs telephone pole”, “bicycle vs fire hydrant”, ad infinitum.
Crash/Accident: interchangeable terms used to describe an event in which some object strikes or hits another object; some people really care about which term is used… pdxalerts does not.
Call: an incident in which officers/medics/fire are dispatched to
Shots Fired: bullets fired from a firearm of some type
Bullet Strikes or Strikes: evidence that a bullet has hit an object
Casings: expended bullet casings or shells
Machete: the weapon of choice of many of Portland’s homeless population
ETOH: the abbreviated term for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, or consumable alcohol, or more commonly known as “hooch” or “booze” or “how a @pdxalert reporter spends their time off some days”
ECIT: Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team – Usually it’s an officer (Portland Police Bureau) who has received specialized training in working with clients who have or are having a mental health crisis but is still in a uniformed and patrol position, these officers are usually tasked with responding to calls involving mental health in addition to their regular patrol duties
BHU: Behavioral Health Unit – a specialized unit that only handles mental health calls and is usually a non-uniformed officer paired with a mental health professional
Project Respond: a mobile mental health crisis response team that works in Multnomah County and the City of Portland and responds to mental health crisis that don’t necessarily warrant a uniformed officer response
Mobile Field Force (MFF): Portland Police Officers that usually work regular patrol that are specially trained to respond to issues that need crowd control, they are often equipped with bicycles, helmets and collapsable batons
Rapid Response Team (RRT): Portland Police Officers that are suited up for riot and crowd control, usually equipped with helmets, face shields, padded safety equipment (vests, knee and elbow protection, etc), long batons, shields, and other “riot squad” type of equipment
Cover: a second or more officers responding to assist an officer on a call, usually when a “cover officer” is dispatched to assist an fellow officer, they will be told whether to respond “Code 1”, “Code 2”, or “Code 3”
“Step up cover”: “have the responding ‘cover officer’ respond faster because I either need more help or I’m about to need more help”
“Non-emergency off the air”: all non-emergency radio traffic needs to halt immediately and only emergency radio traffic (usually related to a call that an officer or officers are on) should proceed; this is usually done when an officer is physically fighting or detaining someone or when physical or deadly force is used or about to be used
HNT: Hostage Negotiation Team, a team of officers specially trained for dealing with hostage or potential hostage situations, this may include members of a SWAT team and they often work in tandem with SWAT to resolve a call
SRT or SERT: Special Reaction Team or Special Emergency Response Team is a team of officers specifically trained for high threat situations, in Washington County they are referred to a “TNT” or the Tactical Negotiations Team
EOW: End of Watch – usually reserved for when an officer has been killed in the line of duty and is often followed by a the date on which the officer was killed
Tag: the license plate of a car or the expiration date stickers on a license plate
Description: a physical description of a person that includes approximate height, weight and age, perceived physical sex (not gender), perceived ethnicity or race (black, white, hispanic, asian, American Indian or Native American, Polynesian, etc), skin color or tone (black, white, light skinned, dark skinned, etc), clothing worn, and any other information that might help someone identify someone else; sometimes descriptions are shortened to “BMA” or “WFJ” or something similar, which is short for “black male adult” or “white female juvenile”, or some other combination of descriptors (WFA, HMA, AFJ, etc)
[disclaimer-we understand that some of these terms/descriptors may be considered sensitive by certain persons; however, these are commonly used and accepted terms in the world of emergency response, and we aren’t in a position to change any of that, and any desired changes will need to be expressed to the agency responsible for radio communications]