If you want to stay on top of events taking place in your community, you can’t beat a police scanner for instant information. A lot of what takes place each day in your area will never make it to the evening news. With a police scanner, you can keep up with current events and who knows, now and again, you may even be able to lend a hand in case of an emergency. As a major plus, you will always know exactly what is going on with the roads and the weather. Whatever is taking place in your area, you will always be the first to know!
Not sure where to start in your quest for the perfect police scanner? Below you can view comparison tables which make it a breeze to scan over features and prices for top models.
|Uniden BC75XLT||View on Amazon|
|Uniden BCD436HP||View on Amazon|
|Whistler WS1040||View on Amazon|
|Uniden HomePatrol 2||View on Amazon|
|Uniden BCD536HP||View on Amazon|
|Whistler WS1065||View on Amazon|
- 1 What is a Police Scanner?
- 2 How Radio Scanners Work
- 3 What You Can Hear
- 4 Why Listen to Scanners
- 5 Users and Uses
- 6 History
- 7 Legality
- 8 Configuration
- 9 Frequency Coverage
- 10 Types
- 11 Modes
- 12 Features
- 13 Scanner Controls
- 14 Uniden BCD436HP: a Nearly Perfect On-the-Go Police Scanner
- 15 Whistler WS1040: Loud and Clear Audio
- 16 Uniden BC365CRS: High Quality, Low Price
- 17 Uniden HomePatrol 2: Use the HomePatrol System In Your Car
What is a Police Scanner?
If you want to be able to monitor radio communications between police and other emergency responders in your area, then you need a police scanner. A police scanner is a wireless device that can pick up a number of different radio bands at the same time. Police scanners are also known as “radio scanners,” “race scanners,” and “channel scanners.”
How Radio Scanners Work
If you understand how an AM/FM radio works, you basically understand how a radio scanner works. AM/FM signals are broadcast through the air on radio waves. So are the signals that go to your television, cell phone, and CB radio.
Radio scanners allow you to pick up more signals within the VHF to UHF range. This gives you a chance to listen in on conversations between emergency workers, sanitation workers, and others in your community.
What You Can Hear
While radio scanners are colloquially referred to as “police scanners,” you can pick up a lot more than just that. With your scanner, you can listen in on:
- Police, sheriff, and highway patrol
- Paramedics and rescue squads
- Security workers
- Road and street departments
- Other federal, state and county agencies
- Helicopters and airplanes
- School systems
- Malls and retail outlets
- Utilities workers
- Stadiums, race car drivers, and pit crews
- Ham radio operators
- And much more!
Why Listen to Scanners
If you have never owned a police scanner, you may wonder why you would want one. There are so many answers to that question! For one thing, you can follow up-to-the-instant information on local emergencies—everything from criminal manhunts to natural disasters. For another, you will always know the state of the roads and the weather—which is useful even when nothing is going on. When your neighbors want information, they will turn to you first!
Users and Uses
Who uses police scanners?
- Patrols and dispatch centers
- News media reporters and videographers
- Home users and radio hobbyists
- Corporate security workers
- Military and government agencies
- Public building workers
- School systems
- Neighborhood watch
Basically, anyone involved in emergency response or communications infrastructure may use radio scanners—plus anybody in the area who is simply curious.
Originally, radio was limited to fixed-frequency models. But in the 1960s and 70s, CB radio was developed, offering from four to 10 channels. In the wake of CB radio, police scanners rose into popularity. Whereas old-fashioned CB radios needed separate crystals to receive each frequency, modern radio scanners use microprocessors. This has allowed for the addition of hundreds of frequencies!
Very few listeners on police scanners run aground of the law. Generally speaking, most communications are legal and safe to listen to.
Here are communications you CANNOT legally listen to:
- Cell phones
- Encrypted communications
And here are uses that are also ILLEGAL:
- Listening while driving in states that restrict it
- Listening for information which will aid in criminal activity or financial gain
You also must not interfere at emergency sites as you could block access or otherwise slow down respondents.
Please note that none of the above information constitutes legal advice. If you have any specific questions or concerns, consult with a licensed attorney.
There are two common configurations for radio scanners:
Base and mobile scanners are both designed to operate from fixed locations. In the case of a base-only/”desktop” scanner, you hook it up to house power and leave it there. In the case of a mobile unit, you mount it in your vehicle, usually in the dash where your stereo would otherwise live. Base and mobile scanners have large antennas and offer you more power and range than handheld models.
A handheld police scanner is portable and small. You can carry it around or clip it to your belt. Some models are small enough to fit in your pocket. They operate on batteries (often rechargeable), and have a lower range than base and mobile models. You can purchase a larger aftermarket antenna to extend the range of your handheld scanner.
Different scanners cover different frequencies—and different agencies utilize different frequencies. Before you buy a radio scanner, you need to look up the frequencies used in your area by the agencies you are interested in following. RadioReference is a great site for this.
If your radio system uses a single frequency for each communication channel, it is a conventional radio system. You cannot use a conventional radio scanner to listen to a trunked conversation.
With a trunking radio system, a large number of agencies can utilize just a few radio frequencies. This allows for sharing in congested circumstances. As you might expect, trunking is common in urban areas.
Trunking systems can pick up conventional signals, but conventional systems cannot pick up trunking signals.
These are the most common, basic, and inexpensive models of radio scanners available. Analog models are more commonly used in rural communities and smaller towns. Note that an analog scanner will not work to pick up signals which are being transmitted on digital systems. Before purchasing an analog scanner, always check to make sure that that is what is commonly in use in your community.
Most larger cities have switched over from analog scanners to digital systems. These systems have better reception and sound quality. Even though digital police scanner are more expensive than analog ones, you will need to shell out the extra money to purchase one if that is what is commonly in use in your area.
What features are important to look for in a police scanner? Below is an overview that will help you make the right choice when you are making your product comparisons.
How many channels you need depends on how many agencies you are interested in listening to. A basic model with just 10 to 20 channels will be sufficient if you only want to monitor one or several agencies. If you’d like to listen to a large number of agencies, aim for a model that includes a larger number of channels.
Banks & Lists
This feature allows you to organize large numbers of channels into simple categories called “banks.” Examples might include Aircraft or Fire. If your scanner includes Dynamic Memory Allocation, you may also have what is known as Scan Lists. These are very similar to Banks, except that you have control over the number of channels in each.
While you can find the frequencies for many agencies in frequency books, many others are unlicensed or simply unpublished. This feature allows you to search for these frequencies. This is a great way to follow federal government agencies or US Park Service.
Scan and Search Speed
This is a measure of how quickly your device can scan through channels. If you have a large number of channels to scan through, high speed can be important. If you are only listening to around 10 channels, look for a scanning speed of about 16 per second. If you have more channels to scan through, you might want to consider a higher search speed like 50 or 100 channels per second.
You can use this feature to search through pre-programmed frequencies. This can be a quick and easy way to locate the appropriate frequencies for police, firefighters, and so forth. You will find that it is especially handy for traveling.
If an agency that you wish to follow in your area is making use of a trunked radio system, you will need to purchase a scanner which includes a trunk tracking feature.
Many trunking scanners now include this feature for alphanumeric displays. It provides you with useful text identifying various channels and agencies.
Mode and Step Selection
Your scanner will probably include a feature which allows it to automatically select the right mode for any given frequency. This feature allows you to manually override the selection for mode and step if necessary.
This specification is measured in microvolts. The lower the number, the more sensitive the receiver is. You want a higher sensitivity, because then you will be able to listen to signals even if the transmission is weak. This is particularly useful if you are monitoring aircraft, or live in a rural environment.
If you live in an urban environment, selectivity is an important feature. With it, even if there are two stations on adjacent frequencies, you will be able to pick the one you want to listen to.
This feature gives you the option to put your radio scanner partly or completely under computer control. You may also have the option to download additional frequencies.
This feature givens you a heightened level of control over your banks. With a fixed memory scanner, all your banks are the same size. That means that if you do not fill all the slots in the bank, the remaining memory slots are wasted. With a dynamic memory system, you can customize bank sizes so that you have smaller banks when you need them. That frees up memory for additional slots in larger banks.
Radio scanner controls may vary from model to model, but most of them have the following:
- Volume. This is self-explanatory.
- Squelch. This suppresses static.
- WX button. With this button, you can do a quick check of NOAA weather channels and other pre-programmed frequencies.
- Number Keypad. You can use this to punch in frequencies.
- Search button. Use this to hunt for unknown frequencies.
- Manual button. Step through channels one by one.
- Scan button. Allow the scanner to loop through all of your banks to detect active signals. As each ends, it will move onto the next.
- Delay button. This enables a brief delay on each frequency in scan mode.
- Lockout button. This will prevent the scanner from halting on a particular frequency which you have specified.
Still not sure where to start your search for the best police scanner? We have put together mini-reviews of some of the best-selling police scanners on Amazon.com. Read on to find the perfect police scanner for your needs!
Uniden BCD436HP: a Nearly Perfect On-the-Go Police Scanner
If BCD436HP portable police scanner had a louder speaker, it would be perfect. Uniden’s HomePatrol software is intuitive and easy to use. The factory antenna gives you good range, but if you need better reception you can plug in a larger one.
- It’s easy to use. Even if you’ve never owned a police scanner before, it’s easy to figure out the interface because it’s logically designed.
- It can make recordings. Plug in a 32 gig SD card and record for almost forever.
- Automatically looks up listening frequencies in your area. No need for programming local stations manually. Just punch in your zipcode.
- GPS expansion is available. If you use this scanner with GPS, the “Follow Me” feature automatically updates the list of available frequencies as you drive.
- You can plug in a larger antenna if you need one. The pre-installed antenna is actually quite good. But if you need more power, you can upgrade.
- Long battery life. Three AA batteries last all day long.
- Useful, glitch free software. Uniden’s Sentinel software allows you to keep your frequency list up-to-date.
- The audio quality is okay. But it could be better with a larger, better built-in speaker.
- The manual isn’t very well written. But luckily, it’s not hard to figure out the interface on your own.
Whistler WS1040: Loud and Clear Audio
Police scanners with good quality speakers are hard to find. That’s why the Whistler WS1040’s advanced audio hardware is its most impressive feature. Aside from audio clarity, the other thing that this scanner brings to the table is outstanding reception. Signals that come in fuzzy on other scanners sound clear on the Whistler WS1040.
- Easy to program. Most police scanners are notoriously hard to program, but this one features a user-friendly menu that walks you through the process with a context sensitive help toolbar.
- Fast weather news. The WS1040’s Skywarn Storm Spotter technology lets you be the first to know when a bad weather rolls in.
- Compatible with P25. Project 25 (aka P25) is the communication standard used by federal, state and local public safety organizations in the United States.
- Storage galore. This scanner can hold over 38,000 scannable objects.
- Excellent speakers. Sound comes in crystal clear, thanks to the WS1040’s high quality audio hardware.
- Free carrying case. The included carrying case protects your WS1040 when you’re on the go.
- Great reception. The antenna that comes with this scanner is surprisingly well-made and efficient.
- Even though the WS1040’s operating system is very easy to use, the sheer range of options it gives you can sometimes be overwhelming.
Uniden BC365CRS: High Quality, Low Price
If you’re looking for a budget scanner and you don’t mind programming in stations yourself the manual way, the BC365CRS is a good choice. The reason why it’s cheap is because it lacks software that will automatically download local stations. But once you save a few stations to memory, you’re good to go. The antenna gives you excellent range. The lack of features can is a plus if you’re looking for a simple scanner that’s easy to use.
- Excellent antenna. The antenna that comes with this scanner is surprisingly effective.
- Clear, loud speaker. Incoming transmissions come in loud and clear.
- Simple interface. This scanner isn’t fancy. But, it’s very easy to use.
- Very reasonable price tag. This product is cheap compared to most other scanners.
- Auto sleep. This feature switches the scanner off after a certain amount of time so that a sudden blast of static doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Sturdy construction. The shell is made out of reinforced, high quality plastic.
- Built-in AM/FM clock radio with snooze. You can use this scanner like an alarm clock if you want.
- Doesn’t interface with computers.
- Lacks an automatic frequency look up capability.
Uniden HomePatrol 2: Use the HomePatrol System In Your Car
If you already own one of Uniden’s home scanners and you like the HomePatrol system, this is the perfect mobile scanner for you. The HomePatrol 2 comes with an automobile mounting kit. Of course, the HomePatrol 2 works just as well at home as it does when you’re on the road.
- You can mount it in your vehicle. The mounting bracket is sturdy enough to withstand many chips and dings.
- Makes recordings. Like the BCD436HP, this scanner allows you to record as you listen.
- Easy to use software. HomePatrol is slick and intuitive. Anyone can use it.
- Large touch screen. The 3.5 inch display has a backlight and is super responsive.
- Colored display. This scanner probably has one of the best displays on the market.
- High quality built-in speaker. Incoming transmissions sound much clearer on this scanner.
- Long battery life. This scanner comes with a car charger, but it also has good battery life.
- The built-in “rubber duck” antenna isn’t very good. Luckily, once you buy better one you can swap it out.
- The HomePatrol software only works with Windows.