There are many police scanners available today, from rugged, handheld devices to base units that are ideal for the dash of your car or for your living room table. Either way you decide to go, expect to be able to listen in on transmissions from local police, fire departments, and even Coast Guard and air traffic control chatter.
We made this guide to simplify your search for a police scanner by showcasing the best products on the market today. However, there are also some important factors to consider before making a purchase.
Why buy a police scanner?
Police scanners are valuable tools that allow you to stay on top of what’s going on in your area. From emergency weather and traffic alerts to police activity, sometimes knowing what’s going on in your city or town can be the difference between life and death. Since police scanners are easy to obtain and come in various styles and at various price points, it’s usually quite easy to find a model that works for you.
What should you look for in a police scanner?
- Portability: Simply put, some police scanners offer much more portability than others. Handheld scanners can be taken nearly anywhere, making them the best option for people who are planning to get maximum use out of a single police scanner. However, if you would like to listen to police frequencies while on the go, finding a model with a user-friendly interface that can be easily mounted in your vehicle is by far your best bet.
- Ease of Use: If you’re new to the world of police scanners, finding an easy-to-use model can save you a lot of stress and confusion. Some police scanners feature user-friendly zip code frequency searches, which will quickly allow you to zero in on your local police and fire department frequencies. Additionally, some products are much easier to program than others, whether done manually or with the help of software. If you’re purchasing your first police scanner, an easy-to-program model will save you hours of research and troubleshooting.
- Quality Components: If you don’t want to buy additional parts for your new police scanner, make sure that its antenna and speakers are high quality. This is especially important if you live in a remote area or plan to use your scanner in a noisy area, such as in your vehicle. Additionally, rugged housing, high-quality buttons, and overall durability are factors that will help you determine whether your new scanner will weather the test of time.
Should you invest in a digital or analog police scanner?
The answer to this question mostly depends on where you live and where you primarily plan on using your police scanner. Since many small towns and rural areas still use analog radio transmissions, an analog system can still be of good use. However, most larger cities and many towns have already made the switch to digital systems, where an analog police scanner won’t be able to pick up the frequencies. Some digital channels are encrypted, though, and can’t be heard on most police scanners. Be sure to research your city or town’s radio transmissions so that you can be sure that the police scanner that you purchase can access local communications.
This police scanner is ridiculously easy to use thanks to its intuitive touch screen controls and zip code searching.
Pros: Featuring a beautiful touch-screen interface and intuitive controls, this police scanner is incredibly user-friendly. It allows you to effortlessly set or change locations by inputting your zip code. Then, it delivers various local channels for you to listen to. Although it doesn’t come with an AC power adapter, it’s great for at-home use thanks to its included rechargeable batteries, which can be charged even when the device is operating.
Cons: While the stock antenna that this scanner comes with is serviceable, it’s definitely not the best of the best. Thus, be prepared for spotty reception if you’re using it during poor weather conditions. Additionally, even for a model with some advanced functionality, it’s pretty expensive.
Bottom Line: Although this police scanner is on the pricier side, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option for your home. While this isn’t the most advanced police scanner out there, it pairs advanced functionality with alluring ease of use, leaving no wonder as to why it’s such a popular model.
Whistler TRX-1 Handheld Digital Scanner Radio
This scanner is simple to update online and sports a backlit LCD and USA/Canada radio reference database on its included SD card.
Pros: When programmed properly, this handheld scanner is incredibly versatile in the right hands and can monitor a wide range of unencrypted channels, including Hytera XPT and MotoTRBO systems. It also has an integrated Weather Alert mode so that you can receive weather warnings for your area. This is also one of the most impressive handheld scanners in terms of build and sound quality, and it’s further fortified with a rugged rubber casing for added protection.
Cons: While this is almost certainly the best handheld police scanner on the market, some might wonder whether it’s really worth its premium price tag. This model can be pretty hard to program for the impatient and inexperienced.
Bottom Line: If you’re in the market for a rugged handheld scanner that can keep tabs on both digital and analog frequencies, this one is the best of the best. However, if you are new to the world of police scanners and are looking for a quality entry-level option to play around with, this is probably not the product for you.
Uniden BC355N Mobile Scanner
Rugged, user-friendly, and sporting surprisingly loud speakers, this police scanner is made for road trips thanks to its ability to auto-tune to signals from nearby transmitters.
Pros: Featuring a rugged, easy-to-mount design and a backlit LCD, the Uniden BC355N Mobile Scanner is hands down the best mobile police scanner at its budget-friendly price point. It’s also user-friendly enough for beginners and loud enough to make it ideal for in-car use. This product also scores points for its solid, durable casing, which sports the look and feel of a much more expensive unit.
Cons: This mobile police scanner isn’t suitable for trunking or for digital radio system monitoring, so it probably isn’t a great option for people who live in major cities. However, if most of your travels take you to small towns and wayward areas, this factor shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Bottom Line: Although this car-friendly analog police scanner isn’t for everyone, its build quality and budget-friendly price tag are sure to entice many. People who are looking for an inexpensive scanner to play around with on their next cross-country road trip will find a lot to love in this beginner-friendly model.
BaoFeng UV-5R Dual Band Radio
Sporting a budget-friendly price tag and plenty of functionality for beginners and experienced users alike, this dual-band radio is an affordable way to get access to local PD chatter.
Pros: While not exactly a police scanner per se, this dual-band radio makes it easy to keep tabs on local analog police and fire department chatter and delivers great performance for the lowest price. This is especially noticeable in regards to its loud and clear sound and surprisingly effective antenna. This radio also has the advantage of being widely used, so it’s easy for beginners to find programming tutorials online.
Cons: Since this is a dual-band radio and not a police scanner, it lacks most features that make police scanners user-friendly. So, be prepared to take some time to manually program it and search for your desired frequencies. Also, you’ll need to be extra careful not to transmit on it (unless you’re licensed), especially when listening in on police frequencies.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for basic police scanner functionality that’s stripped of all the bells and whistles, this is a great starting point at an even better price. However, this is definitely a device that will require care while operating to ensure that you’re following the law, especially if you’re not licensed to transmit on a dual-band radio.
Whistler TRX-2 Desktop Digital Scanner
This desktop police scanner is simple to navigate thanks to its user-friendly interface and sports plenty of great features geared toward experienced users.
Pros: The first thing that really stands out about the TRX-2 is the amazing reception that it’s capable of, especially in difficult weather conditions. It also sports an integrated frequency library to simplify the programming process and a dedicated weather button that’s great for storm chasers. All things considered, there are a ton of exciting features and capabilities, although most of these are geared toward more experienced users.
Cons: Due to this scanner’s wealth of features and options, navigating the menu system can be pretty daunting, especially for people who are not well-versed in police scanner technology. To further complicate things, the LCD display isn’t the best, so be prepared to hunch forward as you learn to navigate and use this scanner.
Bottom Line: After cruising through this scanner’s specs and feeling the durability of the build in your hands, it’s pretty easy to see why this model is priced as it is. While experienced police scanner users will find a lot to love here, most beginners are likely better off finding a more budget- and user-friendly model to play around with until they can fully appreciate the TRX-2.
Although there are many different police scanners out there, the average user will be limited in what they can select. This is why doing your research before purchasing is so important when shopping for a police scanner. If you need to access digital frequencies for your area, be prepared to pay more. However, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a police scanner for the right price, regardless of your location.