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 Bearcat BC125AT
The Uniden Bearcat has a smaller display than other models from this manufacturer, and it’s missing some advanced auto-tracking features that make it easier to find public safety channels. However, for a very affordable price ($106.34 for Amazon Prime customers), customers can tune in to 500 alpha-tagged channels. In addition to local police frequencies, the Bearcat can help you listen to ambulance, weather, marine, aircraft and racing events. This handheld scanner comes packaged in a lightweight, portable design and an easy-to-read backlit display.
2. Uniden SR30C BearCat
GREAT HANDHELD CHOICE
With the ability to tune into 32,000 frequencies, you’ll really have your finger on the pulse of your local community. You can scan plenty of EMS frequencies including police, fire and paramedics. If the weather is more your jam, you can tune into emergency weather reports to get the low-down on what is coming in the sky. You don’t have to do all of this manually, either. It can automatically scan frequencies to pick up signal, and you can easily save your favorite frequencies to handy presets. As far as handheld police scanners go, this is one you should strongly consider.
3. Whistler WS 1025
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.
4. Uniden BC365CRS 500
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.
5. Uniden BC355N800
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.
6. Uniden HomePatrol-2
EASTY TO USE
The Uniden HomePatrol-2 is one of the most user-friendly home units available. Like the TRX-2, all you really need to get going is to enter your zip code — the HomePatrol-2 takes it from there. The unit automatically scans for signals in the local area and grab active signals. To really make things easy, the HomePatrol-2 has a touchscreen display. No more dealing with small dials and buttons casting information on a tiny display. And it’s easy to bring around your home and set up anywhere with the fold-out kickstand. It comes with rechargeable batteries that will only last around five hours, which is one of the only downsides to this unit. Otherwise, this is a wise choice for an in-home police scanner.
7. BaoFeng BF-F8HP Dual Band Two-Way Radio
BEST TWO-WAY RADIO
This powerful two-way radio from BaoFeng may offer the best value on this list. BaoFeng is a trusted manufacturer that makes top quality radio products, and this handheld scanner boasts a ton of features. Despite the advanced features, this handheld radio scanner is designed to be user-friendly even for beginners. In fact, this model was designed specifically for police scanner beginners. This handheld scanner has a long battery life and a commercial-quality case. On top of that, users will get an earphone, belt clip, hand strap, desktop 110V charger, and antenna. This analog police scanner doesn’t have the digital capabilities of other options on this list, but it’s a fantastic option. For an even more affordable option from this manufacturer, check out their UV-5R Handheld Scanner, which retails for less than $25.
8. Uniden BCD536HP HomePatrol Base/Mobile Scanner
BEST VEHICLE SCANNER
This car police scanner is more than just your average mobile unit. For starters, it features a WiFi option that when paired with the Uniden Siren app grants you access to the scanner on your phone or tablet. But if you want to get to scanning and listening quickly, all you need to do is punch in your zip code and the scanner will start searching for frequencies in your local area. The mobile unit comes with bracketing to install in your car but can also be used inside of the home with the included power cables. When installed in a vehicle it runs entirely on the car battery power so there is no need to charge the unit. It’s a great police scanner for your vehicle that can get you tuned-in to the local scene quickly. Whether you want to listen to trunked radio networks, racing, police, military, or weather broadcasts, this is a powerful tool. Undoubtedly one of the best police scanners available for amateur use, the BCD536HP is top of the line.
9. 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.