Code 5 – What Does It Mean?

We’ve all seen TV shows and movies of police mumbling specific code numbers over their radios as they talk to each other. Sometimes we hear a police officer say ‘Code 5’ in reply to another police officer. Code 5 – what does it mean? 

Code 5 means ‘Stakeout’. The common way police officers use to convey the meaning of this code is like this: “Dispatch, I am going off the radio for quite a bit, Code 5.” That means the cop will not be using the radio. He will remain silent to avoid getting exposed.

“Code 5” often means stakeout in certain police jurisdictions. However, it could mean different things to different jurisdictions or police departments. The ordinary meaning is to be radio silent to catch a perp.

Read on to learn more about the meaning of Code 5, its other connotations, its uses, its origin, and its different meaning in medical services.

Code 5 – What Does It Mean?

Code 5

Code 5 is a police radio code in law enforcement that means ‘Stakeout – uniformed officers stay away.’ This is the most common meaning of this number code.

However, the actual meaning still depends on the local police department and the codes that they are using.

For instance, one local police department might actually refer to code 5 in this manner: “Dispatch, I will be on Code 5, going off the radio for a bit.” It simply means the cop is conducting a stakeout.

So, they are going off the radio to avoid being exposed to the criminals they are tailing. They want to remain silent for a certain length of time to catch their perps. For instance, they are staking out a bank after thieves held it up.

The cop staking out the place is formally notifying other cops, especially uniformed cops, to stay away from the area because he has already covered it.

They need to notify other law enforcement officers to not barge in accidentally in the area compromising their position and the objective of their mission.

The medical field also uses Code 5 to refer to a specific type of medical situation addressed, which requires specific measures to correct or contain. In the medical services arena, Code 5 usually means shelter in place.

Other Code 5 Meaning

Although Code 5 typically means Stakeout, it can have other meanings, depending on how local law enforcement agencies use the number. Here are some of the different purposes of Code 5:

1. Uniformed Officers Stay Away

As a radio designation of the police, Code 5 can also mean ‘uniformed officers stay away.’ This code is used when undercover cops don’t want other investigators or patrol cops to interrupt or arrest their perps.

Police officers descriptively use this code about a person known to undercover cops or detectives or a confidential informant whose capture or incarceration could jeopardize their ongoing operations.

2. Wait or Stand By

There is no universal meaning to Code 5. Therefore, in particular police jurisdictions, Code 5 can also mean a police officer maintains their surveillance of a person, place, or car.

However, it is not an automatic request for other police officers and patrol cars to stay away from the place, person, or car under surveillance.

But if in such police jurisdictions, the undercover cop says “10-12,” that means other cops should wait or stand by.

3. Don’t Interrupt

Code 5 is used by undercover law enforcement agents situationally to prevent other investigators from interrupting their ongoing operations when they already have a potential arrest at hand.

In such cases, this radio code is usually accompanied by a request to communicate privately (10-12) or confidential information (Code 10-35) regarding the matter.

4. Step Out of the Vehicle

There are some jurisdictions where Code 5 is also used by police officers when they are behind the door of their police car and their guns pointing at a person who has a warrant of arrest or is suspected of committing a felony and asking that person to step out of their vehicle.

The police officer may inform their headquarters in this manner: “Dispatch, I will be off the radio for a bit, Code 5.”

Origin of Code 5

Code 5 originally belongs to the ten codes known officially as ten signals. They are regarded as brevity codes and used to take common phrases in vocal communication, especially by law enforcers and CB (citizens band) radio transmitters.

Developed by a Highway Patrolman

Some believe that these ten codes were developed by a highway patrolman or a state trooper when radios were still using vacuum tubes and not transistors. They experienced short delays between the time when the microphone was keyed and the voice transmission actually started.

People tend to start talking right after keying the mike, thereby clipping the first few words or syllables. Thus, the ten codes were created to allow brief and clear communication of the most commonly used phrases.

If the person started talking without pause, the only word that would be clipped is ‘ten,’ and the receiver will clearly hear the rest of the voice transmission.

The ten codes were developed in the period from 1937 to 1940. Then, it was expanded by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO) in 1974. As a result, this expansion allowed a degree of standardization and brevity of message traffic.

Since then, these ten codes have been used widely by North American law enforcement officers, fire and EMS (emergency response services) worldwide.  The 11-code series augmented the ten codes.

They are several procedural words and, at times, vehicle and penal terms used to form a useful radio vernacular enabling units or people to communicate with each other using only a few words clearly.

Lack of Standardization

Still, there is a lack of standardization, at times, confusing. Thus, the U.S. federal government recommended that they be discontinued in 2006 and recommended using everyday language instead.

The majority of the necessary ten codes have the same meaning wherever they are used. That is why those who have military and public service training tend to include these codes in their vernacular conversations.

Specific Codes Used by Law Enforcement Officers

While different police departments in the United States may use other radio codes, they may have the same overall meanings.

Here are the specific codes used by many police officers in the United States and their basic definitions:

LAPD Codes

Code NumberMeaning
Code 1Answer your radio/Acknowledge call
Code 2Routine call, non-emergency response
Code 2-HighPriority call, use your lights and siren only if necessary to get through traffic
Code 3Emergency get here now, lights, sirens, speed is essential
Code 4No additional units required
Code 5Stakeout, all marked units stay out of the vicinity
Code 6Out of car for investigation.
A Code 6 may be accompanied by different letters of the Phonetic Alphabet, these generally mean different things per department
Code 7Lunch
Code 10Clear frequency for broadcast
Code 99Emergency
Code 100In position for intercept (used during pursuits)

Additionally, the phonetic alphabet of the police is different than the phonetic alphabet used by the military. For the cops, A is Adam instead of Alpha (of the military). Letter B is Boy for the police instead of the Bravo of the military.

Police officers in California use crime penal code numbers to refer to crimes instead of saying it out loud over the radio. For instance, penal code 211 refers to an armed robbery.

Other Police Codes

Here are some more examples of the meaning of police codes. Some are similar to the first examples, while some are quite different.

Code NumberMeaning
Code 1Non-urgent situation
Code 2Urgent – Proceed immediately
Code 3Emergency – Proceed immediately with lights and siren
Code 4No further assistance required
Code 5Stakeout – uniformed officers stay away. Stay away means to go away. There are times when a uniformed cop will cross over with a traffic cop or come upon a stake out. Code 5 tells them what to do.
Code 6Out of vehicle for investigation
Code 7Out of service for lunch
Code 8Fire alarm
Code 9Roadblock
Code 10Bomb threat / Patrol your district and report extent of damage
Code 13Major disaster activation
Code 14Resume normal operation
Code 20Notify news media to respond
Code 22Restricted radio traffic
Code 30Officer needs emergency assistance
Code 33Clear radio channel – emergency traffic only
Code 37Subject/Property wanted
Code 43TAC forces committed
Code 100In position to intercept suspect
Code 666Country-wide emergency
Code BlueBus/Cab in trouble
Code PurpleGang activity
Code RedVARDA alarm activated

Again, code 5-what does it mean? Code 5 in law enforcement means “Stakeout.” Cops use codes such as Code 5 to inform their buddies or headquarters what their next action is.

For example, they will often use this code in a sentence in this way: “Dispatch, I am going off the radio for quite a bit, Code 5.”

Code 5 for Hospitals

Aside from the Code 5 of law enforcement officers, there is also a Code 5 for hospitals. Hospitals also have their own emergency codes announced over a public address system to alert hospital staff regarding different types of on-site emergencies.

What does code 5 mean in a hospital setting? The meaning of Code 5 for hospitals, according to the Washington State Hospital Association, is an order to “Shelter in Place.”

Therefore when you are in a hospital and hear ‘Code 5’ in its PA system, the ‘shelter in place’ order is being implemented because of an unsafe situation.

meaning of Code 5

The responses of the hospital staff for Code 5 can be:

  1. Hospital staff – call 5555 or push the code button
  2. Other facilities – call 9-911
  3. Close department doors
  4. Assign a team to monitor entrances
  5. Request patients, staff, and visitors to remain where they are
  6. Check e-mail for further instructions

Meaning of Shelter in Place

In their effort to contain what they call the Covid-19 virus, many governments worldwide are implementing heavy restrictions on their citizens’ movements. And this is due to the United States holding the record of having the third-highest number of Covid-19 cases.

This is where Code 5, used by hospitals, takes on an essential meaning to all people. A majority of people worldwide, especially the countries with a supposedly high number of Covid-19 cases, have been ordered to ‘shelter in place.’

In effect, the majority of the people around the world are now under Code 5. Their governments instruct them and enforce regulations for them to ‘shelter in place’ because of the ‘unsafe situation’ brought about by the Covid-19 virus.

Stay at Home Order

There are many countries worldwide where their governments have implemented ‘Stay at Home Orders.’ This is just another way of saying ‘Shelter in Place.’ Both phrases have the same meaning.

A government typically implements shelter in place orders to its citizens when there are emergencies such as natural calamities, mass shootings, massive riots, or chemical spills.

The government usually orders its people to travel unnecessarily, close non-essential business, not engage in mass gatherings, and so forth.

Governments are issuing the shelter in place orders to ‘flatten the curve’ or stop the virus from spreading. By limiting the movements of people, they hope to control and eventually eradicate the virus.

Conclusion: Code 5 – What Does It Mean?

The meaning of Code 5 is ‘Stakeout.’ Moreover, most cops will refer to this code in reply to another cop or to inform their headquarters what they are about to do.

For example, they will often use this code in a sentence in this way: “Dispatch, I am going off the radio for quite a bit, Code 5.”

The cop on the other end will understand that his partner is turning off his communications temporarily to maintain his silence so that they won’t be discovered by the criminals they are tailing.

Other Code 5 meaning include:

  1. Uniformed Officers Stay Away
  2. Wait or Stand By
  3.  Don’t Interrupt
  4. Step Out of the Vehicle

Hospitals also have their own Code 5; all the staff is ordered to “Shelter in Place” due to an unsafe situation. An example of this is the “Stay at home” order when Covid-19 hit.