In today’s joined up, social media savvy world you may be forgiven for thinking that police scanners have had their day. You would be wrong, however. The truth is that these popular devices retain the ability to deliver up to the minute news and information, not just on issues related to the emergency services. Aircraft, weather, and road condition updates represent just some of the sources out there that can be picked up by a good scanner.
In this guide, we’re going to show you not just how to pick a good scanner, but how to pick the best radio scanner for you. We’ve pulled together a list of some of the most popular scanners on the market today, and finished it off with an informative buyers guide to make sure you select the right one. So read on to find the best police scanner, over.
The Best Police Scanners
Aside from the wide range of built-in features this device boasts, there is really two stand out things about this model any potential buyer should know. First of all, it is very good value for money. We don’t mean that like oh this is pretty cheap, we mean that as in this is a high-end radio from a well-respected manufacturer for a little over 50 bucks. That is phenomenally good value.
The other thing to know is that it has been designed to be as user-friendly as possible. In fact, BaoFeng has stated that this product is specifically designed for the person who is not a radio expert. To that end, the model has been designed right here in the US for intuitive use. You get a very well written, very helpful user manual that is more like a guide to the basics of police and fire scanners, as well as comprehensive customer support.
In addition to all that goodness, it’s just a good, solid somewhat basic but overall effective scanner radio. The battery has been upgraded from the previous model to provide 30% more capacity (it is a 2000mAh battery, which is an excellent power output for a handheld model). It should be noted this is an analog-only model, however, it does boast excellent reception ranges across FM, VHF and UHF bands.
Extra Large Battery
- Weight10.1 oz
From one of the more simple designs of scanners, we now turn to one of the more advanced designs on the list. This is a digital scanner brought to you by Uniden. This company has a stellar reputation for producing top quality digital radio scanners, and it’s a bit of a spoiler to say that this will not be the first of their products to make the list.
This product does boast a premium price tag – we’re talking several hundred dollars here – so be aware of that going in. What do you get for your bucks though? Well, Uniden has crammed their HomePatrol-1 software into a handheld for the first time ever with this product, which means incredible bandwidth and compatibility with Phase 1 & Phase 2 digital signals and full integration into Motorola, EDACS and LTR Trunked communication systems. What does that mean in reality? Well, it means that no matter the complexity of the system you want to listen into, this little baby can probably handle it.
This is also a great emergency scanner for two reasons. One it contains GPS tracking software to allow it to receive specific area weather and emergency alerts through the S.A.M.E weather alert system. It also runs on simple AA batteries meaning you can stockpile a good supply of emergency power to get you through any event.
Runs on 3x AA Batteries
Extra Large Display
S.A.M.E Weather Alert Warnings
- Weight1 lb
Our next product comes from Whistler and is a digital trunking scanner. It has Motorola Phase 1 compatibility, and also includes a very useful built-in object-oriented programming. This makes it extremely easy to program and use. This scanner is in fact designed from the ground up with usability in mind. For example, it includes a built-in Help function. Depress the control pad over a term or instruction for a few seconds, and get a helpful tutorial message pop up.
In addition to that, it has the ability to store up 1,800 frequencies and allows you to search for nearby frequency use in a very simple manner. It also automatically jumps from frequency to frequency when instructed, saving you time and battery power. The device also allows for instant access to Skywarn Storm Spotter frequencies straight out the box – a very useful feature if you live in hurricane or storm country.
Excellent Scan List Functionality
Built-In Help Prompts
Digital AGC Compensates for Low User Audio
- Weight8.5 oz
Uniden is back, just as we said they would be! This is what is called a base/mobile police scanner. What that means is that it is not a hand-held type of scanner and it has no battery power – it has to be plugged into a steady state power source. The designation base/mobile, however,r does mean it has a degree of mobility, as it can be installed in a vehicle and plugged into the DIN connector port. Or, as the name implies, it can be used as a base unit and plugged straight into a wall outlet.
In operation, the unit runs on Unidens own HomePatrol series software, which as we discussed has also been installed in the handheld scanner version. So everything we mentioned back there is present and correct here, including access to the S.A.M.E weather warning network. In addition, we also have enhanced memory and wider frequency compatibility here, with their scanner suitable for phase 1 and 2 digital transmissions as well as 5 different frequencies.
The final feather in the cap is the downloadable app that allows you to synch your iPad or iPhone to the scanner. The scanner itself has built in Wi-Fi compatibility, allowing you to access the scanner remotely from just about anywhere – a really cool feature!
Home or Vehicle Mounted Unit
Excellent Value for Money
- Weight6 lbs
Another returning manufacturer, BaoFeng are back here with what is without question the budget option on our list. Don’t write it off simply because it’s cheap, however! This is, in fact, one of the more popular models on the market, because it is a simple handheld police scanner that is perfect for people who are perhaps just starting out using one of these devices.
For less than 30 bucks, you can pick up what is, all in all, a pretty capable little radio scanner. It is analog only but works across a pretty broad radio range of MHz frequencies. It is designed to be simple to use with a nice button layout and bright (and backlit) LCD screen. It can also monitor two station frequencies, switching easily between each one as it receives inputs.
The best thing about it is that it is easily upgradable. For example, for the enhanced range, you can splash out a little extra cash in the future for a high gain antenna. If you’ve never bought a police scanner before, this could be a great gateway product. It has enough features to let you get a good idea if you enjoy using a scanner, whilst not having all the bells and whistles that can push up the price of higher end models.
Monitor Two Frequencies at Once
- Weight1 lb
Our next product comes from Uniden, another manufacturer making another return appearance on our list. In essence, this product is like the big brother of the BaoFeng scanner radio we looked at earlier and identified as a good, if basic, introduction model.
This product is basically the next step up from that radio. It costs about twice as much, but it also comes with about twice as many features. The first upgrade is easy to see in the image and it is that nice, high gain antenna that this product comes bundled with (the BaoFeng had a similar antenna, but you had to pay for it separately).
In addition to that, you get excellent memory function with this police scanner. It can hold up to 300 individual channels, and they are grouped in sets of 30, each set assigned a numbered button. That makes it easy to remember and find saved channels. Finding those channels is also nice and easy, with the built-in Close Call capture technology, this is a really neat feature that automatically scans and give priority to radio signals that are local to you, making it easier to find the radio channels you want to listen to in your locality.
300 Channels (10 Sets of 30 Channels)
Close Call Capture Tech
Works Across Wide Channel Frequencies
- Weight14.4 oz
Quick point of note before we get into the review, BTECH is essentially a subsidiary/sister company of BaoFeng. So we are keeping up our streak of returning manufacturers here, and BaoFeng are, technically, making their third appearance here.
So what’s the big stand out with this scanner radio? Well, for one thing, it is perhaps the best value tri-band radio out there right now. A high-end brand name tri-band could really set you back anywhere from 300 to 400 bucks, sometimes even more. This radio? You’ll get change from a hundred. Quite a bit of change actually. That is a phenomenal value.
Yes, you are going to miss out on some of the bells and whistles you’ll see on more premium models – but you’ll also miss out on that premium price tag. You still get some good features here too, in addition to Tri-Band capability. 128 channels of storage is a good amount for such a small device. Frequency Scanning mode is simple and effective and allows you to enter the search parameters to limit the scan and save time. You can easily add or remove channels from the search, and the Simultaneous Display is very useful, putting a range of information right at your fingertips.
Excellent Value Tri-Brand Radio
Easy Manual Radio
- Weight8 oz
Please don’t let this company’s stupid name blind you to what is actually a pretty well designed digital police scanner style radio. We mean, come on Radioddity, did no one there ever say the company name out loud? Never mind the fact that it is simply too many D’s for one word.
Aside from that issue (which, to be fair, isn’t really an issue at all), you actually have a very capable, very small handheld police scanner here which puts being user-friendly at the heart of the design. So for example, the bundled software and connector cable allow you to hook it up to a laptop or PC to set commands for each button. It’s really easy to use, with drop-down menus opening up for each button. You click the option and it’s set, allowing you to configure control exactly how you want it.
Away from that, this is a dual band analog & digital scanner, with a wide range of compatibility with various systems and frequencies. It has a powerful 5-watt output, and the manufacturer has also managed to cram in a very powerful 2200mAh battery for extended operating time. All in all, this is a very well designed, very competent radio with a sub 100 dollar price representing outstanding value for money too.
Dual Band Radio
High Capacity Battery
Comes with Programming Cable & Software
Lightweight & Very Portable
- Weight1.45 lbs
Ironically, this product can do just about anything – except track bears. So if you saw the product name up there and excitedly thought you could use this device to finally track down Yogi and get your picnic basket back, sorry to be the bearers of bad news.
If you are looking for an extremely capable mobile style of police and fire scanner, on the other hand, take a good look at this next product from Uniden. It is packing a range of useful features. We have an advanced, dynamic memory system that allows you to save up to 9,000 channels. 9,000! It has Close Call Capture FR technology, which will prioritise local origin radio sources, making it easier to tune in to local police, fire and other services in your area. This is backed up with GPS technology for more accurate results.
Because it’s a Uniden, you get the automatic access to the S.A.M.E weather alert system, a very useful feature if you live in the area with weather extremes. It also comes pre-loaded with the state-by-state radio frequencies of all local emergency and other services. That should make it nice and easy to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Trunk Tracker III for Wide Compatibility
Location Based Scanning backed by GPS Tech
State-by-State Preprogrammed Channels
- Weight5.3 lbs
Our final product comes from Whistler, and it is a bit of a different one. Every model that we’ve looked at so far has brought some degree of mobility to the party. This could be that they are true handheld police scanners or mobile style that mounted inside a vehicle. That is not the case with this model though. As a desktop scanner, it is designed to stay right there, on the desktop, connected to a wall power outlet.
That complete lack of mobility is offset by the fact this can be a bit larger and a bit heavier than other models. That extra size has been used by Whistler to cram in a lot of functionality. The big eye catcher has to be the fact it can store up 1,800 frequencies. It’s also very easy to search frequencies, especially local ones. The product happily flits from one signal automatically to the next, making it a much simpler process to find channels.
The memory is of a dynamic design instead of a more traditional banked design. That means the device can make the decision on the fly where and how to allocate memory resources, helping to stretch them a little further than the hardware should allow. This digital police scanner is not cheap, but you are getting a lot of highly effective scanner for your money here.
Memory Back Up
SkyWarn Storm Spotter Function
- Weight2.64 lbs
Best Police Scanners Buying Guide & FAQ
That finishes up our list of the best police scanners on the market right now. But with so many products, how do you know which is the right one for you? Step right up for our very informative buying guide and FAQ section!
We’ll go through some of the big features to keep an eye out for when selecting your model. We’ll also talk through how to make the most of your new police scanner, as well as answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these useful little devices.
Features to Consider When Buying a Police Scanner
- Analogue/Digital/Dual Band – You really need to know the systems that are being used by whoever you plan to listen to. If the local police department has switched to digital, for example, you better buy a digital police scanner if you want to hear them. If you are unsure, or if there is a range of systems being used locally, go for a dual band style for added compatibility.
- Handheld/Mobile/Desktop – Do you need – or want – to carry the scanner around with you? Then go for a handheld. Do you need the extra power for wider pickup, and don’t mind being tethered to one location? Go for Desktop in that case.
- Emergency Use – Some scanners are better designed for emergency use than others. If you need a scanner that will function well in a disaster, look for one with automatic connection to a local weather warning system like S.A.M.E. Also consider battery life. Scanners that run on AA batteries are easy to stockpile power for. That can keep them going for longer if the worst happens and disaster strikes.
- Local Priority – There are a lot of radio frequencies out there. Selecting a scanner that will give priority to local radio signals makes it easier to find and listen to local source radio transmissions. That generally is what most people want to hear – they want the local police department, not the police three towns away. GPS compatibility will make the scanner even more accurate in this area.
Why Have a Police Scanner?
The simple answer to this question is, if you want to have a police scanner, then why the heck not? As we’ll explore in more detail below, providing you are using it properly it is entirely legal to own and uses a scanner – so again, if you want one, then get one.
Many people, as we’ll discuss below, want a scanner for professional reasons. Many people however simply enjoy listening to the action on a police and fire scanner. It can really give you a better understanding your local community as well as the work of the dedicated men and women who go out there to protect it.
Who Would Need a Radio Scanner?
This kind of ties into the question above, doesn’t it? Who needs a radio scanner? Well if you live in an area with extremes of weather, a radio scanner can be a very useful tool. Make sure to select a model with compatibility with your local storm warning system and you can be alerted often before it comes over the TV or commercial radio.
Aside from that journalists and private investigators often find it useful to have a police scanner so they can stay up to date with all the local law enforcement news and movements. Professional drivers, like truck drivers or cab drivers, can also find them useful to get real-time updates on road conditions, or areas that are best to avoid due to temporary criminal action. There are also volunteer firefighters, EMTs and police officers who may find it useful to monitor law enforcement channels for a heads up of any events that could cause them to be activated into their volunteer roles.
Finally of course, as we mentioned above, there are simply people who find listening to law enforcement chatter to be fun.
Different Types of Radio Systems
Broadly speaking there are three types of system:
- Handheld – As the name suggests, you hold it in your hand. This model has the most mobility of course, whilst often being weaker models in terms of broadcast pick up range. It is also limited by its battery lifespan.
- Base/Mobile – A middle ground between handheld police scanners and desktop models. They can be plugged into the wall for base use, or installed in a vehicle for mobile use.
- Desktop – The complete opposite of Handheld. As the name suggests, they are designed to sit on the desktop and must be plugged into a wall power outlet. That lack of mobility is usually offset with more frequency pick up power, as well as more built-in features such as additional channel memory.
Analog Vs. Digital Analogue is the traditional radio source that has been around since the very birth of the device. Digital is a far more modern communication medium. Analogue has the advantage of being generally cheaper, whilst digital is more powerful and has more options. It can, for example, be “trunked” or broken up into essentially different channels making it a more effective medium. As it is more expensive to install, many law enforcement agencies have not yet switched over.
What you need to do is find out the types of radios carried by your local law enforcement, so you can buy a radio with the correct compatibility. Failing that, you can hedge your bets with one of the dual band style of the police scanner, which can operate across both analog and digital broadcasting frequencies.
Best Police Scanners FAQ:
Check out the next section for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about police scanner devices.
Q: What is a police scanner?
A: A police scanner is a type of radio that is optimized to pick up radio frequencies most used by law enforcement and other emergency services. As communication systems have evolved, so too have Police scanners, and you can now pick up models that are compatible with a range of systems and across multiple frequencies including analog and digital frequencies.
Q: How do I program a police scanner?
A: Each model is going to have different ways to program it. Some will rely on a direct input interface – in other words, you program it using the buttons and push pads installed on the device. Some more advanced models will ask that you install software onto a laptop or PC then hook the radio up with a cable and program it via your computer.
Either way, most scanners should come with decent documentation that explains the process in a clear and concise fashion.
Q: Is it against the law to listen to a police scanner?
A: The Simple answer is that no, it is not illegal, thanks to the Communications Act of 1934. This states that radio frequencies – including those used by the cops – are public property and so anyone can listen to them. Hooray!
If you are listening to these channels out of curiosity then you’ll be fine. Any good lawyer would advise you however to take some precautions, and bear in mind there are some legal loopholes that can get you into trouble. For example, many states, such as New York, have made it illegal to use a scanner whilst driving a vehicle.
Q: Batteries; how long to charge and how long do they last?
A: Well, hold on Cowboy, that’s technically two questions. We’ll allow it this time, but don’t get carried away. Charge time is going to be similar to any handheld device and will increase as the mAh rating goes up. It also depends on the effectiveness of the charger – i.e. how many amps it can push out.
The length of battery life is another consideration that differs depending on the batteries ability and how it is being used. Some of the models above have 1500 mAh batteries, which are only really going to give a few hours of continuous use. On the other hand, some models pack in 2200mAh batteries that could be good for 12, 16 or even 18 hours of use, especially if the scanner is set to a low power mode.
Q: How far away will my scanner pick up?
A: In theory, you should be able to pick up a signal from thousands of miles away, if the broadcast has sufficient power. In reality, many frequencies are “Line of Sight” i.e. they don’t go over the horizon. This is especially true of police and fire in urban settings, where the signal may not need to travel the vast distances covered by very rural emergency services. As an average, and it will depend on the type of radio systems being used by your local police, expect about 25 to 50 miles of a signal picked up from your location.
Our Top Pick
For its combination of user-friendly design, excellent customer support and outstanding value for money, the top pick has to be the BaoFeng BF-F8HP Dual Band Radio. Yes, there are certainly more complicated devices out there, but for us it’s an ideal starter model, being specifically designed for people who have limited radio experience. For the more experienced user, it also has enough high-end features – excellent bandwidth, superb battery – to make it appealing to that group too.
The wide-ranging appeal, solid design and a bargain price all combine to make the best police scanner on the market right now.
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