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Would you like to listen to a live broadcast of hot pursuit? If you’re not familiar with the concept of a police scanner, you probably think it’s impossible. Well, it’s not just possible – it is a pretty popular hobby. There are scanner clubs where fans gather and share knowledge and fun facts on frequencies, codes, and other things. 

Strictly speaking, a police scanner is actually a radio scanner that can scan and monitor discrete frequencies. It is not restricted to listening to police radio, though. With a scanner, you can monitor hundreds of channels including firefighters, EMS, aircraft and airport activity, and many more.

Basically, all businesses and services that use two-way radio transmission are within your reach. Unless they are encrypting their radio channels, that is. But more often than not, it is not the case.

So, a police scanner allows you a pretty unique form of fun. Moreover, it provides a lot of useful information and news.

A scanner is a radio receiver only. It can’t transmit voice or other signals. 

Why Should You Own a Police Scanner?

BC75XLT-300 Handheld Scanner

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Obviously, we can live without police scanners. But, there are many reasons to consider buying one.

And I am not talking about fun. The first and the most important function of a police scanner is to keep you informed. Yes, you can watch the news, and you’ll probably get all info in a reasonable time frame.

But, there’s a crucial distinction. With a police scanner, you’ll get raw, first-hand info and follow events as they unfold. Traditional sources may or may not report about some events that can affect you.

Imagine any kind of disaster scenario. You’ll probably watch the latest news on TV, but you’ll get unfiltered, first-hand reports from your scanner. If you live in hurricane or tornado-prone areas you’ll be able to react quicker and assess the situation better. Not to mention that you can monitor all important sources while on the go.

Besides emergency situations and disasters that can affect you directly, it is also useful to monitor daily activities of your local services. You will gain invaluable insight into how these services operate. 

It may come as a surprise, but scanners are helpful in educating your children. While having fun listening to train and air traffic controllers, or other local services, they’ll get the bigger picture. They will expand their horizons on how the world and your community function.

It is also invaluable to have a first-hand understanding of the dedication and professionalism of people working in emergency services.

Which brings us to another important benefit – versatility. Police scanners will allow you to monitor all services that use two-way radio communication. So, you can get the fastest updates on weather and road accessibility, alongside the aforementioned emergency services, air, and train traffic.

And you can use it for entertainment as well. Listening to communication during car racing or backstage talk at concerts is not really useful, but it can be quite entertaining.

How to Choose a Police Scanner

how to choose police scanner

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First, you need to choose a proper format. There are five different ways to transmit signals: 

  • Analog
  • Digital phase I
  • Digital phase II
  • Trunked
  • Encrypted

Police scanners can’t pick up encrypted signals – and anyway, it would be illegal.

Analog scanners can receive only analog signals. Trunked scanners receive trunked and analog signals. Digital scanners phase I will receive phase I, analog, and trunked.

Finally, phase II can pick up all analog, digital, and trunked signals. So, the choice is obvious.

Furthermore, most communication is moving towards digital phase II. Even if you can pick up something with analog or phase I scanners, they are becoming obsolete as time goes by.

Types of Police Scanners

police scanner

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Depending on how you want to use them, there are 3 types of police scanners.

  • Home/desktop police scanner
  • Handheld police scanner
  • Mobile/vehicle police scanner

There are no fundamental differences between these types in terms of features. It’s all about your convenience.

For example, if you prefer monitoring while sitting at home you don’t need the smaller, ergonomic design of a handheld scanner. A larger display will allow you to read it when you’re several feet away. 

Handheld scanners are an obvious choice if you prioritize portability.

As for mobile scanners for cars, be careful, some states prohibit using scanners while driving.

Things to Consider

  • Number of channels. Most late versions of scanners have hundreds and even thousands of channels, so it shouldn’t be an issue. However, some basic models have 10 to 20 channels, which might not be enough for you.
  • Scanning speed. Police scanners have become considerably faster. If you want to monitor only a few channels, it’s not that important. If you want to track all you can get, look for speeds of 50 channels per second or more.
  • Range. The scanner’s range is an important feature. The listed range designates the scanner’s ability in perfect conditions. Any obstructions like urban areas, hills, and trees would decrease the range. However, an additional antenna can boost it.
  • Sensitivity and selectivity. Higher sensitivity will allow you to pick up weak transmissions. A lower number indicates higher sensitivity. As for selectivity, higher selectivity allows you to have more control in dense, urban areas with many neighboring signals.
  • GPS compatibility. It provides flexibility in range and frequency updating, especially on the go.
  • Memory and storage. If you want to record conversations, consider buying a scanner with an SD card. Recordings don’t take too much space. 2GB is enough for hundreds of hours of audio.
  • Lists and banks. You can classify your channels into categories for easier use.

Is It Even Legal?

desktop police scanner

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It’s important to make sure you don’t break any laws. Generally, it is legal to own and use police radio scanners. However, several states do have some restrictions. Florida, Minnesota, Indiana, New York, and Kentucky you cannot use a police scanner while driving. There are ten other states that allow using scanners, but if you commit a crime while using it, you’ll be additionally charged. The bottom line is clear: don’t use your police scanner while you drive in the aforementioned states, and in the rest of the country you can use it freely as long as you don’t use it to commit a crime.


one-way radio

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Police scanners can be fun, but that’s not what they’re made for.

These nifty gadgets provide first-hand, valuable info. From weather alerts and road conditions to emergency services, you’ll know what’s going on in your local area. It can be precious and vital in cases of natural or other disasters.

All these serious benefits shouldn’t stop you from having fun while listening to train and air dispatches. Furthermore, you will get an insight into how efficient your community services are. Overall, it’s a rewarding investment in so many ways.