For the police, firefighters and other emergency services, emergency frequencies are lifeblood used to pass important, live communication across their respective departments. For radio-scanning hobbyists, using one of the best police scanners to listen in on what’s going on is a popular activity, and one which can also offer a number of benefits. Information available to listen to on the airways can include live updates on emergencies, local news and weather reports.
Police Scanners 101
There are two types of police scanners: handheld devices and base models. Handheld devices are more compact and small enough to carry with you just about anywhere. Many are even small enough to be kept in the glove compartment of your car. However, these portable models, which often look similar to standard walkie-talkies, are usually more expensive and often have a more limited range of available frequencies when compared to base models.
If you don’t need your police scanner to be portable, a larger base model will likely be better suited to your needs. Some of these scanners are designed for mounting in a car while others have been made to sit on a desk or other surface in your home or office. Because of their larger size, these devices feature longer, stronger antennas. This means base models offer users more reliable reception.
The best police scanners allow you to stay in the know by scanning multiple radio frequencies in seconds and letting you listen in on what are commonly known as “action bands.” However, these tools have applications beyond listening to police communications. The best radio scanners receive transmissions from a number of emergency services and organizations including:
- The Police
- The Fire Department
- Air Traffic Control
- Railroad Workers
- Racing Events
- The Coast Guard
Any service which relies on two-way radio communication will likely be available for your listening pleasure. There is a lot of useful information and hours of entertainment and education to be taken in when you have a police scanner at your disposal.
Why Should You Get a Police Scanner?
Staying updated on the happenings in your local area via a police scanner is a smart idea. But the best police scanners also give you the inside scoop on things like local events before any news is reported publicly. When the police are responding to a potentially dangerous situation or disaster, it’ll hit the scanner’s airwaves before it can be found anywhere else. So if you’re listening in, you will be one of the first people to know. That’s news that is even faster than Twitter! It’s possible that this potentially important information can help you avoid problematic areas, or inform others you know to do so.
Updates on weather and road conditions can also be incredibly helpful. Sometimes a storm can roll in so quickly that you won’t even realize it until you are caught in the middle of it. This is especially relevant if you live in an area that is hit by tornados or other natural disasters. You’ll also hear accident reports over the scanner that can alert you to steer clear of certain highways or streets to avoid traffic.
When choosing the best police scanner, it’s worth considering what features you want in your device and your budget range. It’s also worth being aware that there are devices designed specifically for beginners and experienced radio operators. Other key questions to ask yourself include:
- Do you want a desktop or handheld unit? As mentioned above, one of the biggest differences in the best police scanners is whether they’re made with portability in mind or designed for in-vehicle or on-desk use.
- Do you want to plug in your zip code and start listening, or does a more advanced unit suit your needs? Be sure to check how complicated each device is and then match your level of expertise to the right one. Some scanners are aimed at newcomers to the hobby while other devices may be harder to use, requiring a greater amount of experience and more desire to really make the most of it.
- Do you want a digital or analog model? As the name suggests, an analog police scanner picks up analog (non-digital) radio transmissions. Analog transmissions are commonly used in smaller cities and rural areas. When you find a frequency you want to listen to, you simply enter and store it using the integrated keypad. On the other hand, many larger cities are switching to digital systems for their greater reception and range. One drawback to digital signals is that they can be encrypted.
How We Chose the Best Police Scanners
As with most electrical devices, there are several core elements that appeal to every kind of user. Things like user-friendliness, high-quality construction and good value for money all rank somewhere near the top. That’s why we took each of these points into consideration when we were sourcing the best police scanner available online. In terms of complexity, we’ve also included a range of devices to ensure there are both scanners that appeal to newcomers to the hobby and more complicated models which are well suited to experienced hobbyists looking for greater control over their experience.
To help you choose the best police scanner for your individual needs, we’ve put together a SPY Guide to answer the key questions and show you some of the most popular available devices. Below you’ll find 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 updates.
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 seven-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-canceling 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-canceling 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 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: The device 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 about 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 as it can scan 100 channels per second and it’s easy for users to tune to their local area only.
Cons: Can’t listen to digital (or trunked) radio networks.
6. Whistler WS1065 Desktop Digital Scanner
EASIEST 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 easily access 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 ongoing activity and breaking news. You can narrow the feed down to the 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.
9. BAOFENG UV-5R Dual-Band Transceiver
The first thing to point out about this BAOFENG UV-5R Dual Band Transceiver is that it’s not technically a police scanner. However, its dual-band capabilities allow users to listen in on local analog police and fire department chatter. It’s constructed from tough plastic which gives it a surprisingly rugged build quality while the easy-to-understand configuration is great for new and experienced users. Perhaps most noticeably, this popular device has a budget-friendly price tag which makes it an ideal introductory piece of kit for anyone looking to avoid any heftier financial investment.
Pros: At under $30, you won’t find a better price for a scanning-capable device.
Cons: Because it’s not technically a police scanner, using it for that purpose may take a level of understanding many users aren’t interested in achieving.
10. Uniden Bearcat SR30C Compact Handheld Scanner
The Uniden Bearcat SR30C Scanner sports a handheld and highly portable design. As the replacement to the popular BC75XLT, users will find a new button configuration and an overall look that helps to improve usability and functionality. There’s a maximum of 500 channels available across 10 easy-access banks as well as built-in Close Call technology which will automatically detect nearby transmissions, even if the frequency isn’t already in your device. Other noticeable features in this compact scanner include the flexible antenna and BNC connector, its built-in USB charger and how noticeably quick and beginner-friendly programming is.
Pros: The device’s compact, lightweight build makes it one of the most portable police scanners on the market.
Cons: Its limited antenna means manual scanning won’t be as comprehensive as larger base models.
11. Uniden BCD536HP HomePatrol Base/Mobile Scanner
If your priority is loud and clear audio from your police scanner, the Uniden BCD536HP HomePatrol Base/Mobile Scanner will be the option for you. This base model unit features a large LCD screen which provides users with a wealth of handy information. The easy-to-navigate buttons, which include designated replay and avoid buttons, further add to this newcomer-friendly device’s functionality. To get up and running, simply insert the pre-installed MicroSD card, enter your zip code and begin surfing. Handily, the USA and Canada-wide scanner comes with a bracket for easy in-vehicle mounting.
Pros: The pre-installed Micro SD card and user-friendly arrangement make it a good choice for newcomers.
Cons: The LCD screen’s bluish tint is only dimmable and not changeable.
12. Whistler TRX-2 Desktop Digital Scanner
BEST DETACHABLE HEAD
This Whistler TRX-2 Desktop Digital Scanner boasts a user-friendly, full USB interface that is capable of both detecting and masking digital voice audio. It also includes a functional keypad, a backlit LCD display and a pre-programmed nationwide database which is ready to be accessed right out of the box. The CPU firmware, DSP firmware and library are all upgradable while the detachable head, which can be held in place using the magnetic fitting, provides users with a handy amount of freedom when it comes to mounting your unit, especially in a vehicle.
Pros: The pre-programmed national database makes setting up the device quick and simple.
Cons: The LCD screen is smaller when compared to some of its major competitors.