Facebook Pixel Code
Updated March 2017

Best Police Scanners

Updated March 2017
Uniden
HomePatrol Series Digital Handheld Scanner
Uniden
800 MHz 300-Channel Base Mobile Scanner
Whistler
Analog Desktop Scanner
Radio Shack
PRO-650 Desktop Radio Scanner
Whistler
Analog Handheld Scanner
Check Price
Check Price
Check Price
Check Price
Check Price
Bottom Line

The best police scanner available right now. Truly stands out for its feature set, quality, and performance relative to the other competitors.

A solid model by a trusted brand in the industry for an affordable price. The perfect scanner for experienced users who don't want to spend a lot.

A basic police scanner that is the perfect choice for users who want a reliable analog model that is simple to use.

A reliable brand, but we found that similar features and a lower price point make the Whistler desktop scanner a better deal.

A good option for users who prefer an analog scanner in a handheld unit. For users who like digital options, the Uniden Home Patrol is a better choice.

Good

A customer favorite with digital functions and 5 frequency capacity in a portable model. Earns top marks for ease of use, a vivid display, and ample 4 GB memory space.

Reliable model that functions as a mobile or stationary police scanner. Features 300 channels and fast scanning of up to 100 channels at a time.

A traditional analog model at an affordable price. Comes with a Skywarn feature for reliable storm warnings. Features 200 channels and the ability to be PC programmed to back up data.

With Skywarn and 200 channel capabilities, it offers users the options preferred in a desktop police scanner. Comes with AM and FM radio reception.

An analog handheld scanner that is also computer programmable for easy data back up. Also has 200 channels and Skywarn feature in a lightweight unit.

Bad

An expensive model. Some users report issues downloading the accompanying software.

Compact in size but not as easy to take on the go as handheld models. Somewhat difficult to program, making it challenging for novice users.

Tech enthusiasts and users in areas with digital codes might not find this analog scanner to be useful. Doesn't have AM radio reception.

Has features similar to the Whistler desktop model but is more expensive. At 3 pounds it is also heavier than other models we tested.

No bells and whistles. Has a smaller, less visible display than the Uniden Home Patrol.

Best of the Best
Uniden
HomePatrol Series Digital Handheld Scanner
Check Price

Bottom Line
The best police scanner available right now. Truly stands out for its feature set, quality, and performance relative to the other competitors.

Bad
An expensive model. Some users report issues downloading the accompanying software.

Good
A customer favorite with digital functions and 5 frequency capacity in a portable model. Earns top marks for ease of use, a vivid display, and ample 4 GB memory space.
Best Bang for the Buck
Uniden
800 MHz 300-Channel Base Mobile Scanner
Check Price

Bottom Line
A solid model by a trusted brand in the industry for an affordable price. The perfect scanner for experienced users who don't want to spend a lot.

Bad
Compact in size but not as easy to take on the go as handheld models. Somewhat difficult to program, making it challenging for novice users.

Good
Reliable model that functions as a mobile or stationary police scanner. Features 300 channels and fast scanning of up to 100 channels at a time.
Whistler
Analog Desktop Scanner
Check Price

Bottom Line
A basic police scanner that is the perfect choice for users who want a reliable analog model that is simple to use.

Bad
Tech enthusiasts and users in areas with digital codes might not find this analog scanner to be useful. Doesn't have AM radio reception.

Good
A traditional analog model at an affordable price. Comes with a Skywarn feature for reliable storm warnings. Features 200 channels and the ability to be PC programmed to back up data.
Radio Shack
PRO-650 Desktop Radio Scanner
Check Price

Bottom Line
A reliable brand, but we found that similar features and a lower price point make the Whistler desktop scanner a better deal.

Bad
Has features similar to the Whistler desktop model but is more expensive. At 3 pounds it is also heavier than other models we tested.

Good
With Skywarn and 200 channel capabilities, it offers users the options preferred in a desktop police scanner. Comes with AM and FM radio reception.
Whistler
Analog Handheld Scanner
Check Price

Bottom Line
A good option for users who prefer an analog scanner in a handheld unit. For users who like digital options, the Uniden Home Patrol is a better choice.

Bad
No bells and whistles. Has a smaller, less visible display than the Uniden Home Patrol.

Good
An analog handheld scanner that is also computer programmable for easy data back up. Also has 200 channels and Skywarn feature in a lightweight unit.
How We Decided
  • 138 Models Considered
  • 11 Hours Spent
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 162 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Shopping Guide For Best Police Scanners

    During the CB radio craze of the 1970s, another electronic gadget also gained significant popularity in the states: the police radio scanner.

    Private citizens could now use a tabletop receiver with special tuning crystals to pick up local police, fire, and ambulance calls. Users could also eavesdrop on the chatter at air traffic control centers and emergency weather channels.

    Modern digital police scanners no longer require tuning crystals to pick up these remote conversations.

    Today, you can use a police scanner to listen in on thousands of different “channels,” any of which could be broadcasting action at any time.

    Since a scanner is seen as a mere “receiver” in the eyes of the law, no special licensing or registration is required.

    At BestReviews, we use a combination of consumer feedback, independent lab testing, and expert interviews to provide readers with the most unbiased shopping advice possible. If you’re in the market for a police scanner (also known as a radio scanner), please see the above matrix for our top police scanner product recommendations.

    If you would like to learn more about police scanners and how to choose the right one, here is some important information to consider:

    Police Scanner Designs

    Three police scanner types populate the market today: handheld, mobile, and desktop scanners. All are legal to own, but some states impose restrictions on the use of mobile scanners while driving.

    Each type of scanner offers its own pros and cons.

    Scanner designs

    Mobile Scanners

    Perhaps you’d like to install a mobile scanner in your car, either for personal or professional reasons. Much like a citizen’s band radio, a mobile scanner requires professional installation. The channel capacity of a mobile unit exceeds that of a handheld in most cases, and the controls tend to be easier to use.

    On the downside, certain channels could be highly distracting to drivers. For safety’s sake, if you become distracted by a channel on your mobile police scanner, please tune it out.

    Mobile scanners provide real-time information to drivers about accident locations and potential traffic delays.

    Scanner designs

    Handheld Scanners

    Perhaps you want access to a radio scanner while walking through your neighborhood or hiking in a remote location. A handheld scanner addresses this issue, although the word “handheld” does not necessarily mean “easily portable” in this case. Many handheld scanners are the size and weight of a military walkie talkie, not a compact smartphone.

    Handheld scanners generally offer a smaller range of channels than other model types, but they easily pick up local police and fire broadcasts. Neighborhood crime watch volunteers and those who travel alone at night may find a handheld scanner quite beneficial.

    Scanner designs

    Desktop Scanners

    Desktop scanners, also known as base scanners, are perhaps the most popular choice among amateurs. A desktop scanner sits on a flat surface and runs an electronic scan through all of the local channels selected by the user. When a channel becomes active, the scan stops until the broadcast is over. Owners have the option of locking on a particular channel for specific information or locking out channels that are either inactive or continuously on.

    Some desktop units include an internal antenna, but others require a booster or external antenna for maximum performance.

    If you use a police scanner for your job, a desktop unit may not be enough. You may want to invest in a mobile or handheld scanner in order to receive information on the go.

    Types of Police Scanners

    When choosing a police radio scanner, you must decide what type of radio broadcasts you want to receive: analog, trunking, or digital.

    The ultimate upgrade is a digital receiver, but digital broadcasts are still limited to larger agencies that have made the switch from analog to digital.

    Types of signal

    Digital

    The most advanced radio communication systems use digital signals for both transmitting and receiving information. While many digital police scanners can receive analog and trunked frequencies, the reverse is definitely not true. An analog or analog-trunking police scanner cannot translate digital broadcasts.

    Digital transmitters fall into two camps: Phase One and Phase Two. Potential buyers should learn which type of digital transmission their local agencies use before investing in an advanced digital model.

    Some agencies are naturally busier than others, and certain days and times of the week might see more activity. Listeners should be prepared for long periods of silence punctuated by short bursts of official activity.
    Types of signal

    Trunking

    When a single analog channel is in use, other transmissions aren’t possible. To address this issue, some transmitters bundle multiple frequencies to form a trunk line. We liken this to the older analog telephone system: if one outgoing frequency is in use, the transmitter automatically searches for the next available frequency in the bundle.

    The same holds true for incoming transmissions from patrol cars. Because these frequencies change so often, only scanners designed for trunked systems will work. Before you buy a trunking scanner — analog or digital — make sure your local agencies use trunk lines.

    Types of signal

    Analog

    An analog-only police scanner can receive a number of local radio transmissions. This applies to rural areas and smaller cities in particular. But due to FCC regulations and upgrades, the number of analog-only transmitters is beginning to shrink.

    Investing in a basic analog police scanner makes economic sense if the user is aware of these limitations and if local agencies have no immediate plans to upgrade.

    The most basic transmission type is called analog. This older technology is still used by many smaller agencies today. An analog upgrade for larger agencies is called trunking. Notably, a police scanner without the ability to decipher trunked signals simply will not work.

    Police Scanner Prices

    How much should you pay for a police scanner? Cost depends heavily on what type of technology you’re buying into. Basic analog handheld and smaller desktop models fetch as little as $75. High-end Phase Two digital desktop scanners with signal boosters sell for more than $500.

    Of course, if your local agency has upgraded from analog to digital, the cost of an analog scanner is a moot point. In this scenario, you would need a upgraded scanner in order to pick up any signals at all.

    Similarly, scanners with the ability to receive trunked signals are going to cost more than basic analog models. But they’re the ones to buy if your local agencies use trunked communications.

    Digital scanners with analog and trunking capabilities are the best, but these sit at the top end of the pricing spectrum.

    Before investing in a particular scanner or its accessories, make sure your local agencies are compatible with the scanner’s technology. Many medium to large municipalities still use analog or analog-based trunking systems, as digital upgrades are expensive. We recommend that you only invest in a digital police scanner if it also has analog/trunking capability or your local agencies have already switched to digital.

    A federal communication law created in 1934 allows private citizens to access almost all public radio frequencies, save smartphone and classified military frequencies. Most agencies that use radio communication fully realize how accessible their broadcasts are.

    Scanners and the Law

    Since the passage of a federal communications law in 1934, almost all radio frequencies are considered public. (The exceptions are encrypted military channels and frequencies used for smartphone communication.) As such, agencies and individuals using radio-based communication devices have no expectation of privacy.

    Some scanners can receive wireless baby monitor transmissions, in-store employee communications, and other sensitive information. Nevertheless, owning and operating an unmodified police radio scanner is legal in the U.S. However, as we mentioned above, some states prohibit the use of a mobile scanner while driving. Using scanner information to aid and abet a crime is also illegal.

    Because public agencies are fully aware that the public could be listening in, they sometimes use code language or other channels of communication to protect sensitive information. This is legal, and in fact, both dispatchers and responders are trained to maintain professionalism during all publicly accessible transmissions. Because of this, some first-time scanner owners are disappointed by the lack of drama behind most dispatch calls.

    We spoke with Justus, a police detective who’s been dealing with police scanners for 18 years. Two important questions to ask yourself before buying a police scanner are: 1) Is it durable? 2) Is it waterproof?

    FAQs

    Q: Are police scanners legal to own in the U.S.?

    A: Yes, police scanners are just as legal to purchase and use as any other radio receiver. However, some states forbid scanner use while driving. And, of course, you may not use information gathered from a scanner to aid criminal activity.

    Q: Why should I invest in a police radio scanner?

    A: You may want to buy a police scanner for personal or professional reasons.

    • Some people buy police scanners to gather firsthand information about local police and fire emergencies. Exchanges between the dispatcher and the emergency crew help the owner know precisely where the incident is located and what precautions he or she may need to take.
    • Tow truck operators often keep mobile scanners in their vehicles and/or desktop scanners at their dispatch center.
    • Neighborhood crime watch volunteers can benefit from handheld or desktop police scanners tuned to local emergency services.
    • Some users like having 24-hour access to emergency weather broadcasts and highway patrol traffic channels.
    • It’s not unusual to see a desktop police scanner in a newspaper or television office.

    Q: Do I need any special licensing or registration to operate a police scanner?

    A: No. Unlike a ham radio or CB system, a police scanner does not provide two-way communication. You don’t have to register your police scanner with the FCC or any other government agency.

    Q: Why should I buy a police scanner when I can listen to streaming broadcasts online or through an app on my smartphone?

    A: While a free website hosted by radio scanner groups or scanner manufacturers does provide access to popular broadcasts from around the world, the content is limited compared to what an actual scanner can pick up. Many people buy scanners so they can hear local police, fire, and ambulance communications — not just real-time emergency calls in cities such as New York and Chicago.

    Q: What can I expect to hear during a police scanner listening session?

    A: Many first-time scanner owners are disappointed when they don’t hear dramatic exchanges between dispatchers and police officers at crime scenes. Both officers and dispatchers are trained to remain as professional as possible on public airwaves. They’ll often use special “ten codes” to communicate sensitive information. These codes vary from agency to agency.

    • Heather
      Heather
      VP of Content
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Michael
      Michael
      Writer
    • Jimi
      Jimi
      Product Analyst
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Editor