Police Scanner Codes: Color and Penal Codes

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Written By Martin C

Police scanner codes provide a quick and efficient way to get a message across. In the case of an emergency, there is no time to talk for ages on the radio while hoping that all information will be understood and noted by the receiver on the other end.

As well as that, police scanners allow for messages to be understood even if static interferes with the transmission.

There are a number of codes used by police. Many of them you may have even heard being used in movies. These codes are categorized by color and category which we will look into briefly below.

Common Police Scanner Codes

Code 2 – Urgent situation, do not use lights or siren to avoid criminals knowing cops are coming

Code 3 – Urgent situation, USE lights and sirens 

Code 4 – No further assistance required

Code 5 – Currently staking out an objective location for information

Code 6 – Stay out of area

Code 7 and 8 – Going on break for food, bathroom, or other

Code 11 – SWAT call-up

Code 37 – Subject wanted

Police Scanner Color Codes

Color codes allow law enforcement to react and act swiftly and effectively to each color-indicated situation. By using a color to indicate each specific situation, police officers can easily communicate the severity and exact circumstances they are in without wasting precious time and energy. This can be a life or death communication, and we’ve identified some of the most common police color codes to help you understand what’s going on on your police scanner.

Code Red – Voice Activated Radio Dispatched Alarm (VARDA) activated

A VARDA alarm is installed in any object that needs to be safeguarded, such as a car. If the object is moved by anyone other than the owner, an alarm is activated and a distress-type call is sent to all police personnel available.

Code Blue – Taxi or bus in a dilemma

In the terrifying event of a bus being held up by an armed assailant or a taxi driver being forced to drive at gun-point, upon being called out, a code blue will have all units arriving at the scene within minutes.

Code Purple – Gang activity

If any suspicious activity or violence is being carried out by individuals in a gang, the color code purple informs all law enforcement units, enabling them to react before the gang gets out of control and becomes more of a threat.

Police Scanner Penal Codes

As with the other codes, penal codes were developed as a way to transfer information swiftly in order for police units to act promptly without any delays or misinterpretations. These include codes specific to certain departments, criminal acts and the unique 273D police report.

Below are some of the many codes and the full list is available via the link provided in the introduction.

18 – Traffic incident

21 – Complaint

24 – Medical emergency

30 – Homicide

34 – Aggravated battery

62b – Simple burglary

72 – Forgery

240 – Assault

417A – Person with a knife

487 – Grand theft

Can I Listen to Police Codes on a Police Scanner?

Yes, you can listen to police color codes, penal codes, and general codes on a police scanner device. You can acquire one of these devices easily, and they are legal to use in most states and cities as long as you don’t commit crimes when you use it. One of our favorites is the Uniden BC355N which you can check out in more detail on the right. It will allow you to listen in on police, fire, EMS, and other emergency communications, and help keep you and your family safe.

Closing Thoughts

As you can clearly see every offense, from the most minute to the most serious, has a special code. I think it’s evident and safe to say that it wouldn’t be a good idea to try your luck with the law. For a full list of all police codes, you can check out this resource.