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Best Police Scanners: Stay Tuned In on Every Frequency

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BYHeather Fishel/ LAST UPDATED ON June 16, 2022

If you’ve ever heard sirens screaming from nearby streets and wished you knew what was happening, there’s a simple solution: a police scanner. These devices are somewhat similar to your average radio, but with the ability to tune into different users’ frequencies like a CB radio so you can listen to what’s happening with local police and fire departments, EMS, and even state police. With a scanner, you can go way beyond your local emergency service stations, though. You can also pick up frequencies for schools and universities, stadiums, and more. And whether you’re looking for the latest traffic news before leaving the house or figuring out what’s going on in your neighborhood, having a police scanner can fill you in.

Best Overall

Uniden Bearcat Handheld Scanner

Summary
A well-rounded police scanner with plenty of channels and frequencies to keep you in the loop on all things local.
Pros
  • Picks up over 40,000 frequencies
  • 500 channels
  • Easy channel organization and management
Cons
  • Owners’ manual is complicated
Best Value

Whistler WS1010 Analog Handheld Scanner

Summary
An affordable police scanner that offers rapid frequency detection plus multiple power sources for plenty of added value.
Pros
  • Picks up VHF Lo and Hi, plus commercial FM and aircraft frequencies
  • 200 channels
  • Stores channels without battery
Cons
  • May be too small for some users
Honorable Mention

Uniden Bearcat Scanner with FM Radio

Summary
This police scanner doubles as a traditional radio, allowing you to get real-time updates and tune in to local radio stations too.
Pros
  • Picks up VHF and commercial FM
  • 500 channels
  • Scans priority channels for up-to-date transmissions
Cons
  • Can take time to program
Best Police Scanners: Stay Tuned In on Every Frequency

Summary List 

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Our Methodology

I chose the best police scanners by taking a look at both of the most common products: handheld scanners and desk scanners. I considered both basic scanners as well as those that doubled as two-way communication devices, emergency alert radios, and wide-range scanners that could pickup public safety channels as well as others at varying frequencies. Those that made my top picks were police scanners that were easy to program and set up, convenient to use, and reliable with range and signal. I also looked to user reviews to determine how each scanner performed in real-world settings, with frequent use and first-time setup. 

Best Police Scanner Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Power Source: 2 AA batteries
  • Size: 4.33 in L x 2.17 in W x 7.27 in H
  • Weight: 14.4 oz

Pros

  • 500 channel memory
  • Backlit display
  • Over 40,000 frequencies
  • Can organize, tag, and manage channels easily

Cons

  • Owners’ manual is complex

The Uniden Bearcat Handheld Scanner is lightweight, convenient to use, and wonderfully feature-rich. It’s one well-rounded police scanner, delivering plenty of power for frequent use despite its small and comfortable size. This handheld scanner lasts for up to 10 hours per battery charge—it comes with two rechargeable AA batteries—and allows you to tune in to 40,000 different frequencies. You’ll be able to choose from 500 Alpha Tagged channels, which you can customize to your liking and organize into categories within 10 storage banks based on interest, name, location, and more. With close-call RF capture technology, this scanner instantly tunes into the signals from nearby transmitters. And you’ll love the extras like Do Not Disturb Mode, preset search bands, and the backlit display for low light and darkness.

Just keep in mind that the owners’ manual for this police scanner is a bit complex. It makes programming and using the product seem more difficult than it really is, so you may want to poke around the buttons for yourself as you set it up.

Specs

  • Power Source: Batteries or AC power
  • Size: 1.6 in L x 2.4 in W x 5.7 in H
  • Weight: 1.5 lb

Pros

  • Picks up VHF Lo, commercial FM, aircraft, and VHF Hi frequencies
  • 200 channel memory
  • Spectrum sweeper for rapid frequency detection
  • Stores frequencies even without battery

Cons

  • May be too small for some users

When it comes to the combination of a reasonable price and a wealth of helpful features, the Whistler WS1010 Analog Handheld Scanner is a great pick. This product delivers a lot of bang for your buck, with the ability to pick up frequencies for commercial FM, VHF Lo and Hi, and even aircraft to keep you in tune with all of the analog signals around you. It can store up to 200 channels in its memory, and it’ll do so even without a battery in place. Plus, to help you catch the latest alerts, you’ll also get instant access to storm spotter network frequencies for emergency weather updates. And it’s convenient to use, too, thanks to the preprogrammed frequencies for marine, police, ham, and weather banks. This police scanner also offers a backlit LCD screen and works on battery power as well as AC or DC power for extra versatility.

Just note that this handheld scanner is very small. For some users, it may be too compact; however, when it comes to affordability and value, this product delivers a good mix of features along with solid functionality.

Specs

  • Power Source: AC power
  • Size: 8.46 in L x 3.35 in W x 8.46 in H
  • Weight: 2.55 lbs

Pros

  • 500 channel memory
  • Built-in FM clock radio
  • Backlit LCD display
  • 30 FM station presets

Cons

  • Can take time and effort to program

Do more with a police scanner that can pick up radio frequencies as well as weather alerts, police and fire, and other local channels. That’s what you’ll get with the Uniden Bearcat Scanner with FM Radio, which doubles as a police scanner and a clock radio (or just plain radio). This desk-style scanner can pick up frequencies from 25 to 54, 108 to 174, 225 to 380, and 406 to 512 MHz, along with FM radio. You’ll be able to store up to 500 different channels, and the 30 FM presets give you convenient pinpoints for popular frequencies. And you’ll also love the automatic scanning feature for real-time transmissions; this scanner scans your priority channels every two seconds to keep you updated.

The biggest complaint users have about working with this police scanner is getting it programmed. Many have trouble finding frequencies and channels, but this might be due to newer digital frequencies and trunked frequencies limiting users’ ability to find those signals. Your results may vary based on what frequencies are used in your area.

Specs

  • Power Source: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Size: 8.3 in L x 6.5 in W x 3.7 in H
  • Weight: 15 oz

Pros

  • 72 hours of battery life per charge
  • 128 channel memory
  • Switchable between 25 KHz and 12.5 KHz
  • Compact handheld size

Cons

  • Stock antenna isn’t the highest quality
  • Somewhat limited in range and frequency

If you’re on a budget, you can grab the Baofeng UV-5R VHF/UHF Dual Band Radio at a great price. This police scanner is small, but it’s a convenient option if you don’t need extensive, heavy equipment and just want something simple. This dual-band product has a frequency range of 144 to 148 and 420 to 450 MHz, with a 128-channel memory so you can lock in your favorite channels. It doesn’t offer much in the way of extras or frills, but it’s easy to program and the backlit LCD display allows you to easily read and see in varying levels of light or darkness. And it can deliver a solidly long runtime on a complete battery charge, too.

There are just two details to keep in mind if you opt for this budget-friendly scanner. First, its antenna isn’t the highest quality, and it can limit the frequencies you’re able to pick up somewhat. Additionally, because of the more limited frequency range, you may not get as far-reaching reception as you would with other scanners.

Specs

  • Power Source: AC power
  • Size: 5.9 in L x 7.2 in W x 2.2 in H
  • Weight: 3.42 lbs

Pros

  • 9,000 channel memory
  • TrunkTracker III technology for modern frequencies
  • SAME weather alerts for emergencies
  • 100 system Quick Keys

Cons

  • Steep learning curve
  • Doesn’t include a manual

If you’re searching for a police scanner that can kind of do it all, the Uniden BearTracker Scanner is the full-size device you need. This impressively versatile scanner has an almost endless features list, and it’s highly capable. With 9,000 channels and an advanced dynamic memory system, you’ll be able to easily store as many channels as you’d like to tune in regularly. Extra-helpful features, like close-call RF capture technology, location-based scanning, and Trunk Tracker III technology can help you find all of the frequencies you’re looking for. Plus, when connected to a compatible GPS receiver, this scanner can automatically select systems based on where you are. And there are even state-by-state preprogrammed channels so you can find local police, DOT, and highway patrol frequencies wherever you might be.

When you unbox this police scanner, note that you won’t find a user manual. You’ll be left to your own devices, and that can make setup, and programming, challenging. Because there are so many different features on the scanner, users say that there’s a bit of a steep learning curve to master and understand all that it can do.

Our Verdict

The Uniden Bearcat Handheld Scanner is the best police scanner of the bunch, with a great reputation, reliable performance, and a whole wealth of convenient features. Plus, you can’t overlook the 40,000 frequencies and 500-channel memory bank, which allow you plenty of room to stash your favorite channels. And if you’re looking for a scanner that’s value-rich, the Whistler WS1010 Analog Handheld Scanner delivers a mix of convenient features in a compact, affordable package. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Police Scanner

Before you buy just any police scanner within your budget, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. There are a number of different product options in different sizes – and each scanner can include different features and functionality. Additionally, you’ve got to make sure the police scanners you’re considering are legal for use in your hometown. 

Are Police Scanners Legal in Your State?

First and foremost, you don’t want to buy a police scanner if these tools aren’t legal for use in the state or county in which you live. In most states, it’s perfectly legal to own a police scanner. But there’s a catch: You can’t always operate that scanner legally.

In many states, you can own a scanner but you cannot carry it with you. That makes mobile police scanners, like smartphone police scanner apps or handheld scanners used while you’re on the go, illegal. And in many states, it’s also illegal to install a scanner in your car. However, if you use your police scanner at home, you’re perfectly fine. 

And in certain states, like Florida, Indiana, and New York, it’s legal to use a mobile police scanner, but only if you have a license from the FCC or permission from local law enforcement. 

How do you know where to draw the line? Well, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your police scanner at home and not take it on the go with you. Essentially, most states rule that police scanners are illegal when they’re mobile and used in the commission of a crime. But if you’re unsure what, exactly, is legal in your hometown, make sure to look at your state laws on scanners for total clarity.

Types of Police Scanners

Handheld Scanners

Handheld police scanners are the most common kind you’ll find, and they tend to be the most affordable. These scanners look like handheld radios or even walkie talkies, with a rectangular shape and antenna to capture different frequencies and channels. Most operate on replaceable batteries, though rechargeable options are becoming more common. These scanners can fit right in your glove box, and you can use them as police scanners, for emergency alerts, and even two-way communication. 

Desk Scanners

If you’re looking for a police scanner you can use at home or in your garage, a desk scanner – also called a desktop scanner – is a great choice. These are much bigger and heavier than handheld alternatives, and they’re meant to sit on a counter, desk, or shelf so you can tune in while you’re at home. They’re more powerful and more capable than handheld scanners, with standard AC power instead of batteries too. However, they are more cumbersome and more expensive. 

Police Scanner Pricing 

If you’re shopping on a budget, it is possible to find cheap police scanners priced under $50. However, they’re few and far between, and they’re pretty lean when it comes to features and capabilities. Most quality scanners are priced between $100 and $200, with a wealth of features and easy-to-use bands, plus crisp signal. If you’re looking for a desktop or large police scanner, you can expect to spend anywhere from $250 to $450 for the most premium full-sized models. 

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: Is there an app for police scanners?

A: There are modern alternatives to classic handheld or desktop police scanners. You can download a police scanner app on your phone and tune into digital frequencies. There are a number available for free or for a subscription fee. 

Q: What is the range of a police scanner?

A: Range varies from device to device. You’ll want to check the frequencies that your scanner can pick up to assess how far away it’ll be able to pick up chatter, stations, and emergency alerts or signals.

Q: Can you use a CB radio as a police scanner?

A: It depends on the CB radio in question. Some CB radios double as scanners and can deliver police, fire, and emergency services frequencies. However, you’ll want to check the frequency range and product description specs to ensure you’re able to scan for the right channels. 

Q: Will a digital police scanner pick up analog frequencies?

A: While an analog police scanner cannot pick up digital frequencies, a digital police scanner can actually pick up analog frequencies. Digital scanners work with both old and new modes of emergency channel communication, so if you’re looking for total coverage, digital is the way to go.

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