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Police Departments Ditch Codes in Favor of Plain Speech

In March of 2009, the police department of Dallas, Texas, joined a growing number of agencies getting rid of complicated codes used in radio calls or signals. Instead, operators and officers now communicate through a plain-language system that relies on ordinary words and phrases.

For example, in the past an officer might have radioed in to say, "I'm approaching a Code 7 on Highland Ave." Now they just say, "I'm approaching a minor accident on Highland."

The switch is due in large part to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During the chaos that resulted from the attacks, many federal agencies and officers had trouble communicating with each other because they used different codes for different situations—or worse, similar codes that had different meanings between agencies. As a result of that confusion, federal officials mandated that plain-language be used when police and other federal agents respond to major disasters. Many local police and fire departments have followed suit in recent years.

Herb Ebsen, a senior corporal with the Dallas Police Department, thinks the change to a plain-language system is a great idea. "It's just common sense," he said. "If we start speaking in codes, you have a real chance for a problem or misinterpretation."

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