Best Police Scanners: Get Emergency Alerts and Weather Warnings
Find the best police scanner that keeps you up to date with local weather alerts, and road and traffic conditions
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON May 8, 2019
You don’t have to be a police officer, or even a journalist, to use a police scanner. These nifty devices have other advantages that benefit everyone. They tell you about the emergency situations in your area, the weather alerts around you, and the traffic and road conditions when you’re on the road. If you’re looking for the best police scanner on the market, this guide narrows down your search and helps you pick the top-rated police scanner that suits your needs.
- Best OverallUniden BCD436HP HomePatrol SeriesSummarySummaryOur top pick is feature-rich and comes with advanced programming capabilities that work for both the hobbyist and the professional alike. With plenty of accessories, GPS compatibility, and ability to receive S.A.M.E. weather alerts, it offers a lot of functionality in its compact size.ProsProsCompatible with GPS and easy to connect to the computer. It automatically detects any transmissions near you, even the ones that are not already pre-programmed into a channel.ConsConsIt requires setup before you can use it. The battery can be unreliable sometimes.
- Best ValueUniden BC75XLT 300-Channel Handheld ScannerSummarySummaryDespite the very low price tag compared to other top brands, this scanner covers a lot of channels which makes it ideal to track just about any agency you like. It’s easy to use, and since you can program it on your computer, you don’t have to be a pro to start using all of its features.ProsProsBesides its cheap price, it has lots of channels, is easy to charge, and can be programmed on the computer.ConsConsThe owner’s manual is ambiguous and can be frustrating to use. The reception might be limited inside buildings.
- Honorable MentionWhistler WS1040 Handheld Digital ScannerSummarySummaryWith a reputable and dependable company behind it, this product stands out in both quality and user-friendliness. The reception is excellent, and the audio is clear and with plenty of storage so you can use this scanner for a long time without worrying about freeing up space for new data.ProsProsIt comes with everything needed to function in the package. It also has great sensitivity and clearance.ConsConsRather pricey for a handheld scanner.
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Benefits of Police Scanners
- Get an emergency heads-up. Police scanners give you a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on in your area before it reaches the news media. You’ll know about any emergencies or potential disasters, either natural or man-made, through the chatter you pick up on the scanners. Even when you’re on the road, an alert about a major fire or an accident can help save you time and hassle.
- Track the weather. Weather updates are another major reason people still use police scanners. If you’re worried about a brewing storm or a hurricane in your area, the police scanner can be of great help. The updates are faster than the weather channel and keep you one step ahead of the storms.
- Monitor road conditions. Professional drivers use digital police scanners to know which areas are traffic bottlenecks so they can find alternate routes. The scanner gives you a heads-up of any roads temporarily closed. Local police channels give you live updates on areas with heavy activity, so you can avoid them.
Types of Police Scanners
Handheld models are common police scanners. You can carry the handheld scanner around with you anywhere you go. It’s small and portable, much like a cell phone. You can clip it to your belt or even keep it in your pocket if it’s small enough. This portability comes at a cost: The handheld scanner’s frequency coverage and range are limited.
A mobile scanner is larger than a handheld model. You mount the mobile scanner on your car’s dashboard when you go for a drive, or just use it in your home. With external antennas, mobile scanners offer better reception and more range and power. Unlike the handheld types which run on batteries, you can plug these into the car’s power supply or into an electrical outlet in your home.
Hidero Fujimoto established Uniden in Tokyo, Japan in 1966. The company is a leading developer in the communication world and has offices in Irving, Texas. It provides high-quality consumer electronics and has facilities in different countries across the world. Other products include its 800-megahertz police scanner, the Uniden BC355N 800, and the Uniden BearTracker Scanner.
Whistler Group, Inc. has been well-known as an automotive electronics innovator for more than 50 years. It’s headquartered in Bentonville, Arizona. Its first radar detector took the market by storm in the early 1970s. The company develops power inverters, dash cameras, diagnostic inspection cameras, and radio scanners. Other products in this category include the Whistler Handheld Digital Scanner.
Police Scanner Pricing
- Under $100: Police scanners within this price range fall under the handheld category. They’re portable, easy to carry and have limited range and functionality. Even the best cheap police scanner needs an aftermarket antenna to expand its range.
- $100 - $300: Scanners at this price are good, solid devices. Both mobile and desktop models sell at this price range. You get more coverage, better audio, and more storage with these options.
- Over $400: These are your top-of-the-line scanners. They offer compatibility with all frequency formats, unlimited channels, lightning-fast search and scanning features, and a decent warranty. Some handheld scanners have a steep price tag attached but can be worth every penny.
Number of Channels
How many channels your scanner has determined the number of agencies you can follow. In their most basic models, police scanners have about 10 to 20 channels. This is hardly enough unless you’re using the scanner to entertain yourself with your local police chatter. Consider getting a scanner with more channels to be able to track as many agencies as you want.
Emergency Systems Connectivity
A good police scanner can connect you to emergency systems. In cases of natural disasters, you’d want the scanner to connect you to the local weather, or the Specific Area Message Encoding (S.A.M.E.) system. Some scanners have an automatic connection feature where they will search for and connect to your area’s S.A.M.E. The scanner then ensures you only get weather alerts and warnings for that specific area.
- Range: The scanner’s range is one of the main features that you need to consider when buying one. Both the weather and terrain around you can impact the device’s range. If you’re in a mountainous area or surrounded by trees, you won’t be able to receive or send transmissions as well as in open terrain. This is also why some scanners fail in urban areas.
- GPS Compatibility: A police scanner that is GPS compatible has better flexibility both in range and real-time frequency updating than the models without GPS. This is especially true when you leave your current location and move to a new area. The scanner can then detect that change of location and update the frequencies available in that new area.
- Search Features: The more channels you listen to, the better you need the scan/search feature to be. A device with a scan speed of 16 channels per second is considered below average. You’ll want a higher speed to scan all the channels you’re tracking.
Best Police Scanner Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Uniden BCD436HP HomePatrol Series
Uniden BCD436HP HomePatrol is an easy-to-use handheld model with advanced and powerful features. This power comes from the company’s flagship software, the HomePatrol-1. What you get is a device with amazing bandwidth and compatibility with the various communication systems and protocols such as Motorola and EDACS.
The Close Call RF Capture Technology detects any transmissions in your area and tunes to them automatically. The device is GPS-compatible, detects your location, and receives area-specific weather alerts and warnings when you’re on the move. These advanced features make it our top pick for the best portable police and emergency scanner.
On the downside, the scanner needs an SD card to function well. This unit needs plenty of memory, and if you have a defective SD card reader or the card becomes damaged, you won’t be able to use it. It doesn’t work out of the box, so you still need to set it up. Some units have issues with battery life.
Best Value: Uniden BC75XLT 300-Channel Handheld Scanner
Uniden has many stellar products that cover the whole spectrum from the high-end and powerful to the basic and affordable. The Uniden BC75XLT 300-Channel Handheld Scanner belongs to the latter category. It’s inexpensive yet packed with over 300 channels. The channels are nicely grouped together for easy access, and finding them is a breeze thanks to the fast search/scan features.
The unit is easy to charge with a USB cable that comes with the package. Whether you’re at home or on the road, you won’t have trouble recharging the scanner. Programming the device can be done on your computer for convenience. The model gives priority to local channels and radio signals in your area.
On the other hand, the menu can be challenging to find your way around the various features. If you haven’t used one of these devices before, the unintuitive menu might frustrate you; the user manual doesn’t help either. The reception even in clear and unobstructed environments could be limited.
Honorable Mention: Whistler WS1040 Handheld Digital Scanner
Whistler’s WS1040 Handheld Digital Scanner has a lot going for it. What really gives it a place here is how user-friendly it is. With the built-in help features, you can get a tutorial pop-up on any instruction or vague term you encounter. Novice users will appreciate the well-designed menu and zip-code-based programming for setting up the device.
The scanner has an unlimited number of channels and it scans and sorts over 200 lists with ease and satisfying speed. It is compatible with both analog and digital formats and scans and finds transmissions in your area across the entire frequency range. The device has enough storage for 50 hours of audio recording and can store up to 38,000 scannable objects.
Even with all these features, the device is still a handheld model. The price tag attached is rather steep for a handheld scanner. The sheer number of features itself can be overwhelming for someone new to police scanners in general. Zip code programming can yield plenty of unwanted or irrelevant channels.
- To get up to speed with using your scanner, start by monitoring local traffic to learn how frequencies work.
- To avoid any compatibility issues, make sure you find out the radio types used by the local law enforcement agencies in your area before you buy the scanner.
- If you’re not sure of the radio type used by the agency you want to monitor, get a dual-band police scanner. It’s compatible with both analog and digital formats.
- Make sure the scanner is easy to charge if it runs on rechargeable batteries. For the handheld police scanner that runs on battery power, make sure it uses AA batteries.
- Check to make sure the scanner has close capture technology. This will enable it to automatically tune in to local transmissions in your area.
Q: Are police scanners legal?
A: According to the Communications Act of 1934, the US airwaves are public property. Owning a scanner that receives these transmissions is perfectly legal.
Q: What are alpha tags?
A: Alpha tags are alphanumeric symbols used to identify agencies and channels. They’re a more convenient way to store agencies, frequencies, and talk groups in the database.
Q: I live in the suburbs. Do I need a scanner with high sensitivity?
A: Scanners need a line of sight to send and receive transmissions. In urban areas as well as in mountains and forests, that line of sight is obstructed. You’ll need high sensitivity to pick up weak frequencies in these conditions.
For our top pick, we chose the Uniden BCD436HP HomePatrol Series. It’s feature-rich, easy to use, and is compatible with a wide range of formats and communication system technologies. The RF capture technology automatically finds local transmissions when you move to a new area and receives S.A.M.E weather alerts.
For the best budget value, the Uniden BC75XLT 300-Channel Handheld Scanner has an affordable price tag and 300 channels that it groups together, scans, and lists with good speed and efficiency. It’s both easy to charge and program.