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. 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.
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. Whistler TRX-1
This is essentially the handheld version of the TRX-2, which is a blessing. Like its desktop counterpart, it comes with a microSD card that’s loaded with both US and Canadian frequency banks. And like the TRX-2, it is easy to use, but the TRX-1 takes it even a step further. The handheld model comes with a USB cable to connect to your computer, so you can configure the scanner using your PC. This can help users who aren’t as familiar with the handheld device. Users can also scan local frequencies easily with the spectrum sweeper that receives signals within the local area. The signal strength meter helps users make quick determinations if a signal is too weak for listening. Overall, the Whistler TRX-1 is a powerful radio scanner with handheld convenience.
2. Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner
HANDHELD RUNNER UP
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.
3. Whistler TRX-2
BEST DIGITAL DESKTOP SCANNER
The Whistler TRX-2 digital police scanner isn’t handheld, but that shouldn’t deter you from this quality police scanner. First-time users will appreciate the quick and easy setup; plug in your zip code and get started scanning immediately. And if you catch something particularly interesting and worth saving, you can record it on the 2GB microSD card. That’s not all the SD card does either. It also comes loaded a U.S. and Canadian frequency library. And you won’t have to worry about keeping headphones plugged in as the Whistler TRX-2 has a built-in speaker for playback as well as reception that’s loud and clear. It’s a great desktop unit with plenty of included features.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.