In S01E05 of The Wire, why did they need to crack the code the way they did?

Freamon said they got the pages and the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls of the payphones as well as the duration.

Since they still mostly use the phone directly in the low rises and most likely that's one of the phones they get the call information from they could have easily matched the paged callback numbers to any of the (most likely) few phone calls that were made from the payphones in the next minutes.

It kind of feels like they didn't really use these information until they get the wiretap running and actually listen to the conversations.

1 Answer 1


This has been bugging me like crazy lately. The only explanation I can think of is they need proof that the specific calls they want to wiretap are between two suspects before they can get permission to record. Without understanding the code the calls may as well be between random people, and they wouldn't have good enough legal grounds to record. With the code, they can say "this pager belongs to this guy, he receives a page and then makes this call specifically so we know the call is implicated," as opposed to "this guy receives a page, and then any number of these calls may or may not be the call made afterwards."

  • As I understand it, your answer is correct. They were investigating a criminal conspiracy, in which you need to establish communication between two parties, it does not give you the right to record every call that a single suspect makes in the hopes of stumbling across a connection.
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 8:09
  • 1
    I think I'm content with your answer, however I'm still not a 100% convinced that cracking the code (at least the way they did) was really necessary, but I can see the reasoning. They still need to watch the phones to record anyway. Another idea would be that they deliberately chose this way so they can show that Prez is actually intelligent and not as useless as he originally was made out to be.
    – idkfa
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 14:06
  • That is the reason for writing it like that for sure, if not an in-universe explanation.
    – ILA
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 15:33

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