Scanning police and emergency frequencies is a popular hobby. And for professionals like police and firefighters, these radio scanners are the red blood cells that pass important communications throughout their respective departments. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with knowing what is going on in your local area.
Police Scanners 101
There are two types of police scanners: handheld and base models. Handheld models are small enough that you can carry them with you just about anywhere you go. They are even small enough to toss into the glove department in your car. But most times, these portable models can be more pricey and have limited frequency range.
Base models on the other hand are much larger. Some are made to be mounted in your car while others are made for home use. Because these models have stronger antennas, base models get better reception and are more powerful than handheld, but you obviously give up portability.
Why Should You Get a Police Scanner
The best police scanners allow you to stay in the know by scanning multiple radio frequencies quickly and letting you listen in on what’s called the “action bands”. However, these tools have applications beyond listening to police communications. Scanners receive transmissions from police, fire departments, air traffic controls, railroads, racing events, the Coast Guard and other services that rely on two-way radio communications. There is a lot you can pick up when you use the right radio scanner.
Staying updated on the happenings with the police in your local area is a smart idea. But police scanners also give you the inside scoop on local events before it hits the news. When police are reporting to a potential disaster or dangerous situation, it’ll hit their scanners before anywhere else. If you’re listening in, you can be the first to avoid those areas. That’s news that’s even faster than Twitter!
Updates on weather and road conditions can be incredibly helpful. Sometimes a storm can roll in so quickly that you won’t even realize it until you are in the middle of it. And that can turn into a real disaster if you live in an area with tornados or other natural disasters. You’ll also hear accident reports over the scanner that can alert you to steer clear of a certain highway or street, so you don’t get stuck in traffic.
How To Choose a Police Scanner
When choosing a radio scanner, you should consider what features you want, how much you want to spend and whether the scanner is designed for beginners or experienced radio operators. For instance, do you want a desktop or handheld unit? Do you want to plug in your zip code and start listening, or do you want a more sophisticated unit? There are also both digital and analog models available today.
To help you choose the best police scanner for your needs, we’ve put together a SPY Guide to help. Below are the best police scanners for everyone from advanced users to first-time scanners.
1. Uniden BCD436HP Digital Handheld Police Scanner
This handheld police tracker is easily portable and boasts a number of excellent features including a Close Call RF Capture feature, GPS connectivity, an extra-large, easy-to-read display and radio system analysis. It’s very simple to program and easy to operate — all it takes is turning it on and entering your zip code to enable TrunkTracker V to work its magic. It’s able to pick up signals from across town to across the street, and will keep you updated on the latest local updates that pertain to you and your safety. The scanner also includes an instant replay function so you can skip back and replay pertinent pieces of information, and you can set up custom alerts so your scanner can alert you when a specific event happens like a close call hit, emergency alert or other update.
Pros: Convenient handheld design, plenty of features, customized alerts and instant replay.
Cons: The design is not waterproof.
2. Uniden BEARTRACKER 885 Hybrid Police Scanner
BEST HYBRID MODEL
This hybrid model scanner from Uniden does it all and more, with a CB radio, police scanner, fire, ambulance and BearTracker warning system built in with 40 different channels and a 7-color display. It alerts you when any sort of public safety transmission is issued and the built-in GPS enables you to select local channels from their nationwide database. The scanner operates seamlessly alongside the CB radio so you can press a button and instantly connect to local police and fire stations. It also has an ergonomically-designed, noise-cancelling microphone so your transmissions to and from tractor-trailers, for example, come through crystal clear.
Pros: Hybrid model has an expanded range of features and capabilities, ergonomic noise-cancelling radio makes crystal-clear transmissions.
Cons: The LED display may be difficult to read during the day.
3. Whistler WS 1025 Police Scanner
ANALOG DESKTOP MODEL
Looking for a police scanner for the bunker in your basement or one for your nightstand? The Whistler WS 1025 is an analog model that gives users complete control over scanning the airways. You can dial this police scanner in to be incredibly efficient by using the lock-out feature which omits any frequencies that are dead air. You can also set priority channels, which will jump back to the channel and check it every two seconds. But if you really want to go deep into the programming, you can use your PC to help program scan, and even backup your data.
Pros: Small, compact design that’s perfect for keeping on your desk, easy to set priority channels and can hook up to your PC for deeper scanning.
Cons: Antennae may have trouble picking up a signal in your area, depending on where you live.
4. Uniden BC365CRS 500 Police Scanner
BEST NIGHTSTAND MODEL
This police scanner can do a little bit of everything. It has 500 channels in 10 banks to scan police, EMS, and local weather. But it also has an FM radio for when you want to tune into your favorite sports radio or news radio program. And we all know the early bird gets the worm, so you can program the alarm clock to wake you up for the day so you can get to scanning the airways. It’s simple to control with big buttons and the display makes it easy to read even in low lighting.
Pros: Has 500 police, EMS and weather channels in addition to FM radio so you can switch back and forth between pleasure and purpose.
Cons: The aesthetic design leaves something to be desired.
5. Uniden BC355N800 Police Scanner
BEST BEGINNER DESKTOP UNIT
The Uniden BC355N800 base mobile scanner is a great model for beginner police scanner users to get their feet wet. Like premium handheld models from Uniden, this radio scanner has Close Call RF technology to pull and receive surrounding signals automatically as it scans 100 channels per second. This technology keeps users in the know with the happenings in the local area. Customers can effortlessly tune into their area’s “action” bands, where police, ambulance, fire, utilities and weather broadcasts take place. The memory bank can store up to 300 frequencies to call upon your favorites quickly. However, this radio scanner won’t be able to listen to digital radio stations (or trunked radio networks). The Uniden BC355N800 comes with an assortment of power options including an automotive power plug so you can stay informed even when you’re on the road. This police scanner is simple to use and inexpensive, making it a great fit for first-time users.
Pros: Excellent choice for beginners, can scan 100 channels per second and it’s easy to users for tune to their local area only.
Cons: Can’t listen to digital (or trunked) radio networks.
6. Whistler WS1065 Desktop Digital Scanner
EASTY TO USE
This digital police scanner from Whistler makes it super easy to group your stations according to your preference and cycle between them seamlessly. It has a memory backup so frequencies can be stored in the device for extended periods of time even without batteries, and the memory organization is much more efficient than with lower scanners. It’s got a Skywarn storm spotter built in so you can easy access to frequencies related to extreme weather, and the multi-system trunking makes it easy to tune into the stations you want and tune out the ones you don’t. It also has a digital AGC that’s got the capacity to make up for low audio levels on behalf of the user.
Pros: Very easy to customize your listening experience on the device through frequency memory and station grouping.
Cons: The buttons on the menu are small.
7. Uniden BCD996P2 Digital Mobile Scanner
LARGE CHANNEL LIBRARY
This mobile police scanner has over 25,000 channels and a dynamic memory system so you can program the frequencies you prefer to listen to and make them easy to access. It’s designed for the hobbyist, with a digital decoding system and a sizable memory bank that can remember your preferences. It’s got Close Call RF Capture Technology built in as well as the latest APCO Project 25 Phase II systems for radio capturing. It’s got NOAA weather access so you stay up to date on all extreme weather events and the S.A.M.E weather alerts send warnings when there are notable condition changes in your area. There’s also an optional GPS receiver included so you can enjoy location-based scanning in addition to the sophisticated TrunkTracker V technology.
Pros: Sophisticated technology that’s easy to use and access, advanced weather monitoring, plenty of channels to choose from.
Cons: The speaker doesn’t have the best sound quality.
8. 5-0 Radio Police Scanner App
BEST POLICE SCANNING APP
You can turn your smartphone into a full-blown police scanner thanks to the 5-0 Radio Police Scanner app. This provides you with a feed of “active alerts” that’s a collection of on-going activity and breaking news. You can narrow the feed down to county and get only local happenings in your area. When you want to listen in on feeds, you do so by emailing yourself a link from the app and then opening it up on a laptop or desktop. This is a great way to stay informed without having to buy an additional piece of equipment. Phones and apps are pretty incredible what they can achieve these days.
Pros: Doesn’t require purchasing a police scanner, easy to use on your smartphone, can localize your newsfeed.
Cons: Requires regular updates.