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by Peter Moskos

January 24, 2009

On backup

Check the Sun for the latest update on the shot Baltimore City police officer.

This has got me thinking about when things go bad.

If an officer needs backup, well first he or she shouldn't have to ask for backup, because, well, that's what being police is all about. You've got each others' back.

But if you would actually like an extra unit to help keep everything under control, you ask for a 10-11. A 10-11 is a request for a meeting. It could be a meeting for any simple purpose (paperwork, coffee, question, or just for the hell of it). It's not polite to ask another officer his location over the air. Because you have to answer. If you want to find somebody, better to ask for a 10-11.

But in the context of backup, a 10-11 will cause cops to gently run red lights. But it's not an emergency. Everything is under control. Better safe than sorry.

Then, say you chaos in the background of a radio transmission, or the fight is on. If you need help and you need it now, you call for 10-16. That means "backup."

You can also get assigned as 10-16 to somebody else's call. But that's not a big deal. That just means backup is the sense that the call should have more than one officer responding (like for an armed person, a domestic, or anything in progress).

But when calling for backup, 10-16 is pretty serious. You wouldn't ask for it lightly. But if you ask for a 10-11 with any sense of urgency the dispatcher will up it to 10-16.

A good dispatcher needs to keep track of all the units (15-plus in the Eastern, at least last time I checked) and call for backup when needed. Thus they're worth their weight in gold.

If you're really OK, you can do your best to call off the 10-16 saying something like. "No. I've got everything under control. I just need a 10-11."

There's no shame in asking for help if you need it. You just don't want to put other officers at danger for you for no reason. If you need backup, you'll get it. For a real 10-16, you're going to haul ass.

And then sometimes, not too often but often enough, things go wrong. When the shit hits the fan, it hits quickly. Signal-13 is broadcast city-wide and there's nothing higher.

There's a pause when the Signal-13 alert tone comes the radio (it's always preceded by a special tone). Everyone shuts up for a quick second to hear the details. Usually, it doesn't concern you. It's across town or it's 10-32ed right way by the officer who didn't really need (or want) the 13. Like if you don't answer your radio, you'll eventually get a 13 dropped until you do.

But if the 13 is for real, the adrenaline kicks in as you hit the gas and go code one. After a second or third 13 comes over the air, half the cars in the city will be heading your way (luckily, I was never on the receiving end of a Signal 13). As backup, you gotta be really careful. It's a dangerous time to be a cop with lots of fast cars and tunnel vision.

When everything is under control again, you'll hear "10-32," enough officers at scene. But by then, after the 13 went out, it's a little hard to call off the cavalry.

Cops will often come no matter. You get to meet your friends from other sectors and neighboring districts. You say hi, swap gossip, call each other names, and make social plans. It's a little powwow (and can be quite a clusterfuck). Eventually calls-for-service or a higher up will act as the umpire and break it up.

And if a 13 includes the horrible words, "officer down," that is not good. In the end, those close to the officer will go to Shock Trauma to be there for the officer and the officer's family. The sergeant will arrange for family notification and pickup (not a fun part of the job).

Meanwhile those still working the street have to keep answering the same bullshit calls plus a few extra posts. People don't stop being stupid just because an officer is down.

When the next shift comes in at the district, they'll be filled in informally and then formally at roll call. If things have been really chaotic, you might skip roll call and go right to the street to relieve somebody. Overall, the mood will be professional and much more business-as-usual then you might expect.

Seven year later, when watching The Wire, I would still perk up and pay attention whenever I heard the Signal-13 sound. And this from a TV show.


Louise said...

I know the codes are different in other cities. For instance, Code 33 is the one that has the "pay attention!" tone in San Jose, CA. Then the channel becomes restricted and the dispatcher will silence anyone giving routine transmissions.

Even though my exposure to these radio calls is only as a civilian listener on the scanner, knowing how serious a Code 33 can be always makes my heart beat a little faster. I can hear the tension in the voices, and really hear how vital a calm, organized dispatcher is. As you say, worth their weight in gold.

I hope the officer shot in the face is recovering.

gswift said...

Out here in SLC it's 9-2 to request a back, with a "stat" added if you need it quick. 9-1 is the call for the blue wave to head your way.