Three best police scanners

Allen Foster

To get the most out of your scanner, learn to pay more attention to increases in chatter and changes of tone.

What happens on a police scanner is the essence of what is going on in our world. For some, that is absolutely fascinating. If you really want to know what's happening, a police scanner is your ticket to the inner circle.

If you're new to the world of police scanners, the learning curve may feel very steep. But the truth is, it's quite easy to get started because the scanner knows what it's doing. You just have to listen. Then, when you start to feel more comfortable, you can progress to a deeper user experience.

Police scanners can be purchased for use in your home or in your vehicle. Alternatively, you can get a handheld scanner that you can carry with you, much like a walkie-talkie. Here's a look at some of the finer details.

Considerations when choosing police scanners


There are three ways transmissions are broadcast: analog, digital, and trunk tracking. Knowing which technology your local agencies employ will determine which type of scanner you should purchase.

Analog: Smaller agencies may still be using analog, so an analog scanner might be okay for your needs.

Digital: If you get more into it, you'll want to upgrade to a digital scanner because most digital scanners can pick up both analog and digital signals.

Trunk tracking: The third method, called trunk tracking, is like waiting in line for the next available cashier -- you're never quite sure which line (or channel) you'll be directed toward. If this is the system your local agencies use, you'll need a scanner with trunk-tracking capabilities.


Beyond the above, everything else is bells and whistles. The more advanced user will want features that make storing, avoiding, and searching specific channels easier. That way, you can have a curated list that precisely fits your interests.

Police scanner prices

Analog models are the most affordable, starting as low as $70 for a basic unit. As you move up the scale to digital and digital scanners with trunk tracking, the price increases. Adding more channel memory and other options also means a higher price tag. Roughly $500 will get you a top-of-the-line police scanner.


Q. Is it legal to own a police scanner?

A. Yes, it's legal to own a police scanner -- and it's legal to listen to what is being broadcast. However, in a few states, it isn't legal to use a police scanner while driving.

Q. What can I listen to on a police scanner?

A. These devices may be called "police" scanners, but they scan far more than just police communication channels. Depending on how close you are to other agencies and the type of system your scanner uses, you might be able to pick up broadcasts from fire departments, emergency medical services, air traffic control, schools, hospitals, malls, stores, weather alerts, and more.

Police scanners we recommend

Best of the best: Uniden HomePatrol Digital Handheld Scanner

Our take: High-end, portable police scanner with all the bells and whistles.

What we like: Powerful, versatile handheld scanner can be programmed with favorite lists, quick keys, and it works on trunked systems. Automatically picks up nearby transmissions as well as area-specific weather alerts from NOAA. It can function as a stationary or mobile unit.

What we dislike: It can be a little difficult to use if you're new to scanners.

Best bang for your buck: Uniden Base/Mobile Scanner

Our take: A good-quality, affordably priced 800 MHz scanner. A solid purchase for users at any experience level.

What we like: Base/mobile scanner allows you to lock out channels you aren't interested in. Features 300 channels. Automatically picks up nearby transmissions with close call RF capture technology. It's preprogrammed to search for bands that typically have the most interesting chatter.

What we dislike: May be difficult to program specific frequencies.

Choice 3: Whistler Analog Handheld Scanner

Our take: No-frills, analog handheld scanner.

What we like: 200 channels. Features one-touch search of marine, fire, police, air, ham, and weather channels. Easy to enter specific frequencies to memory. Can be connected to PC for programming and backup.

What we dislike: Display is rather small and can be difficult to read at a glance.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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