When it comes to keeping up with the latest undercover news in your community you can’t beat tapping into the analog and digital airwaves here at Police World Wide we can help you by providing the best police scanner reviews. In this day and age a lot of what happens during the day will never make it to the evening news – which is why learning how to operate a police scanner can keep you at the heart of the community, and who knows the police could be relying on you one day in the case of a national emergency.
Are you new to radio scanning? Don’t worry here at Police World Wide we can take you through a complete buyers guide to find the best police scanner 2020.
Top 10 Best Rated Police Scanner Reviews 2020
It was during a recent manhunt that we first came across the popularity of police scanners among the general public which is why we have decided to review the best handheld police scanner. There were tweets and reddit subs by the gazillion giving real time updates of the action as it unfolded.
Best Cheap Police Scanner – Uniden BC75XLT
The first radio scanner on our list is the popular handled BC75XLT from Uniden. This is a great budget scanner for noobs – being narrowband compliant and featuring ten preprogramed service search bands for the simplest method of tuning directly into your local police department, fire/emergency, marine, racing, ham radio, weather and much more within minutes.
Not only that but you have a choice of programming up to 300 channels which is pretty impressive for the handheld. It runs on 2 AA alkaline batteries and these can run out quite quickly however if you place rechargeable batteries inside you can use a standard charging lead and charge the batteries via the computer or adapter that fits many of the modern day telephones. Overall if you do not need digital frequencies or trunking then we would highly recommend this little gem of a handheld scanner.
- Easy to setup (a noob was able to tune into their police department in less than 15 minutes)
- Up to 300 frequencies which is more than enough for a handheld scanner
- Rechargeable batteries meaning that you will never be cut short of battery life
- Batteries can run out rather quickly so we suggest installing rechargeable ones
- Does not support digital or trunking
- Can be hard to reach frequencies that are slightly further away – if this is the case you should look to upgrade the antenna
Best Handheld Digital Police Scanner – Uniden BCD436HP
When we received our Uniden BCD436HP through the post we just couldn’t wait to put it to the test – being one of the top rated handheld scanners on the market we was itching to have our own opinion on the scanner. So here it is – this radio scanner is simply amazing, it didn’t disappoint what so ever. It comes equipped with a four-gigabyte MicroSD card that actually would hold the entire USA and Canada database of radio systems as well as also holding even more space for hours of audio recording for you to listen back.
All we needed to do was enter our ZIP code or GPS coordinates as well as the types of services we wanted and it went off and selected all the channels – just like magic! Keeping the scanner up to date is easy with its pre-installed Sentinel Software and it also allows you to create, change and organise your favourite lists. This handheld scanner can literally scan pretty much any non-encrypted sources including CB and trunking systems.
- Will pick up 99% of non-encrypted sources including CB and trunking systems
- Very effective handheld scanner with the power of a base radio scanner in your back pocket
- Although some may say this seems pricey it is actually very reasonably priced for the features that it offers
- The only weakness we can see that this handheld is very feature rich and you really need to know what you are doing to unlock its full potential
Uniden BCD325P2 Handheld TrunkTracker V Scanner
The Uniden BCD325P2 is an excellent choice for novice scanning enthusiasts looking for a budget priced option that’s close to the BCD436HP in features and performance. It contains most of the features of the BCD436HP but is considered to be a more user friendly option.
The BCD325P is almost identical to most other scanners from Uniden. It is compact, sturdily built and has the large and responsive buttons. The LCD display is among the best at this price point and the contrast and oversized font make it easier to read even from a distance.
In features an in-built antenna which receives digital signals excellently even in a surrounding with possible chances of interference. But like most internal antennas, the capabilities can seem limited if you are looking for distant signals.
It can follow communications on P25 phases I and II along with older analog modes and X2-TDMA, Motorola, EDACS & LTR trunked systems.
Also included is Uniden’s popular Close call RF capture technology, a true band scope function which scans the signal strength for a frequency area or for individual ones. If you are using the scanner in your home with the stock antenna, then this can be a very useful feature that shows you the ideal location to place the scanner in.
You can also use the location based scanning feature provided you attach an external GPS unit with it.
Like we said earlier, it is almost a younger sibling of the 436.
- Budget priced option from Uniden
- Excellent LCD display screen
- TrunkTracker V system that follows APCO Phase I and II, TDMA, Motorola, EDACS & LTR trunked systems
- A.M.E. Weather Alert
- Close call RF Capture
- 100 quick key access
Easy To Use Radio Scanner – Whistler WS1025
We thought it would be fair to include a Whistler in the mix – and what better then to use the WS1025. This had been described as the easiest to use base scanner with PC programmable features so that you can back up your data or database and use the scanner directly from your desktop PC. The priority channel setting c
an be configured to check a channel every so many seconds while scanning to ensure you don’t miss any action. It also has a very good fine tune feature that allows you to trace through frequencies to find unlisted and unidentified channels. Although this base scanner is very simplistic is does exactly what it says on the box – perfect for a newbie looking to listen in on services but want something other than a handheld.
- Easy to configure
- Discover unlisted frequencies with a little fine tuning
- Very affordable
- May lack features for a radio scanning expert
Whistler WS1040 Handheld Digital Scanner Radio
If you have already owned a handheld police scanner and are looking for a meatier upgrade to it that comes with a few bells and whistles, then here’s the Whistler WS1040 for you. This is an advanced scanner that’s considered as Whistler’s successor to the immensely popular Radio Shack PRO-106 and some say it is truly the best handheld police scanner, do we agree?
It covers an extensive range of frequencies including 25-54, 108-174, 216-512, 764-824, 849-869, 896-960 and 1240-130 MHz. To top it off, it boasts of 1800 memories which can be dynamically structured to your preferences.
First things first, the WS1040 is larger than typical handheld police scanners. That’s mainly because of the large backlit LCD display and keypad. It also includes a multi-color programmable LED alert light which can be customized according to the channel received.
If you do not have the scanner in your hand, this feature can be useful in helping you identify which frequency is transmitting a signal without even getting up from your position. For example, Red for County Sherriff, green for fire and so on.
The Object Oriented User Interface makes it really simple to get started with it. The audio quality is excellent, it scans fast and you can program it manually provided you spend a little time with the instruction manual. It also allows you to digitally clone the recorded or programmed data to another WS1040.
If your intended use is to keep track of storm watcher networks, then the Whistler WS1040 gives you one-button access to the frequencies commonly used by them. It is called the SKYWARN Storm Spotter function. You can also use the integrated spectrum sweeper function to track nearby RF sources.
The only possible nit that we could pick with the Whistler WS1040 is that all the menu options and customizations can make it a tad overwhelming for the newbie. You can use software like the WIN500 or Butel to automate the programming. Local HAM radio networks will also be a great point of reference to get started with.
The WS1040 features a MiniUSB port for charging which allows you to use just about any USB charger to power it. Also, the USB Scanner programming cable allows super fast data transfer to the PC or during cloning.
- Sturdily built handheld scanner
- Backlit LCD screen and keypad
- 1800 storage memory with the option for dynamic strtucturing
- Alert LED and audible alarms
- V-Scanner technology
- Digital data cloning
- One button access to storm watcher networks
Best Police Scanner For Car – Uniden BCD996P2
First things first this is rated as one of the best police scanner for car – but if you locale is still running on analog and you are a newbie to radio scanning then this is not for you. However if your locale runs digital trunking systems then lets dive straight in! This base/mobile radio scanner offers a simplistic approach to listening in to your emergency service operators such as the police, fire department and hospital radios.
However this scanner does not have SSD so maybe tricky when tuning into longer waves such as ham or shortwave broadcasts. Although manually configuring this scanner can be a very time consuming concept it is possible to configure it with the dedicated Freescan beta software. The reception we picked up on the scanners standard antenna was great so no complaints in that department.
Some say that the drivers did not detect the scanner on a Windows 8.1 PC – luckily we were convenient to be supplied these drives directly from Uniden – but for those of you that are stuck you can find them in the Yahoo group ‘BCD996p2’. Once up and running the scanner does not lack memory – the advanced dynamic memory system would allow you to store 25,000 dynamically allocated channels into this receiver.
- Simplistic setup with the Freescan beta software
- Advanced dynamic memory system
- Close call RF capture Technology instantly tunes to signals from nearby transmitters
- Can be very time consuming to setup manually
- Some people have had problems installing the drivers on a Windows 8.1 PC
Best Desktop Radio Scanner – Whistler WS1065
Yet again this desktop scanner is hard to manually configure – however the installation software is there for a reason so a message to all newbies “throw yourself in the deep end and get this scanner, head over to YouTube and watch some tutorials and then head over to RadioReference if you need further help” – this desktop scanner is defiantly worth the effort. Once unlocked it is capable of tuning into virtually any un-encrypted digital trunking system. The large speaker and high signal coverage makes the audio very crisp and clear – we were able to hear things we weren’t able to on our other big branded desktop scanner, which shows just how powerful this piece of kit is.
- Can tap into virtually any digital trunking system
- Crisp clear audio
- Strong coverage
- Can be hard to program – but you have to reap the rewards, go and do a bit of research!
What is a police scanner?
The first hurdle we need to tackle is defining a police scanner – a police radio scanner is a wireless device that scans frequencies and radio bands to tune into VHF and UHF land mobile radio systems (local radio systems). There are three main types of radio scanners
- BaseBase being a radio scanner that is ‘fixed’ and requires a main power line such as a house electricity socket (AC or DC). Base radio scanners tend to be more expensive yet very much more reliable and powerful/rich in features and usabilit
- MobileSimilar to a base radio scanner a mobile radio scanner has to be fixed to a specific location but can be configured to operate within a car, motorbike or type of vehicle. It still requires a power supply but can be hooked up to a vehicle battery as opposed to a household electricity supply.
- HandheldA handheld radio scanner it mostly confused as a ‘walkie talky’. It allows you to walk around and pick up different radio bands / channels and is operated on batteries or battery packs.
Why have a police scanner?
Tapping into radio system can have a huge amount of benefits – however the main use for a police scanner is to keep up to date with the news within your area. These radio systems can cover a wide range of different emergency services including:
- Helicopters & Airplanes
- Military Bases
As well as non-emergency services such as
- Racing drivers / pit crews
- Malls & retail outlets
- HAM radio operators
From this long list of facilities using radio systems it doesn’t take a genius to wonder why having a radio scanner can be essential to someone that likes to monitor the movement in their community.
Who would need a radio scanner?
We have already talked about the different types of facilities that operate on a radio system but you could ask the question who would actually go out their way to buy a police scanner? Well you will be surprised that the radio scanner can not only be used by a curious nosey neighbour but also across different specialised professions including:
- Crime dispatch centres
- News reporters and paparazzi
- Security patrol companies
- Secret Government Agencies
- Construction workers
- Neighbourhood watch
- And much more!!!
How legit is police scanning? Could I get in trouble for it?
Here at Police World Wide we strongly suggest to check with your local authority about the rules and regulations that operate in your state regarding listening to your local communications.
However saying that the majority of states purposely open their communications in order for there to be a reduced chance of emergency services having problems with communicating amongst each other – therefore everything is kept on an open public frequency.
Listening to cell phones and encrypted communications however is a big no go and you CAN get in trouble for doing so – so stay away from them. Also remember to NOT listen to a communication whilst driving or communications to aid criminal activity or financial gain.
Different types of radio systems
Before buying your first police radio scanner you need to decide what features you want the scanner to have – to do this you need to know the different types of radio systems and the features to look out for.
Conventional Radio Systems
A conventional radio system is normally used within smaller groups of people as it allows frequencies to be assigned to small groups of operators forming different ‘frequency groups’. For example, your local police department may have 5 frequency channels structured like
- Channel 1. 050 MHz – Police Dispatch Team
- Channel 2. 100 MHz – Road Patrol East Unit
- Channel 3. 150 MHz – Road Patrol West Unit
- Channel 4. 200 MHz – Road Patrol North Unit
- Channel 5. 250 MHz – Road Patrol South Unit
In this layout officers will tune into their area frequency without any real need to listen into any other frequency channel.
What we would aim to do is set up our radio to scan all channels for activity, then focus on the group we wish to listen to. This type of ‘conventional radio system’ can be easily monitored on the majority of radio scanners we review here on Police World Wide as long as it receives the correct frequency.
Trunked Radio Systems
When it comes to bigger users of radio systems it may be the case that there are far more groups of users than available frequencies. This is where a trunked radio system can help as it allows a large number of users or groups to share a smaller number of frequencies. This type of system takes into account that not every user will want to communicate over the radio at one given time which means that fewer frequencies are needed. You guessed it, Trunked radio systems are used by the bigger operators of radio such as the larger police, emergency or military forces. The system allows the users to be organised into ‘talk groups’ which are organised in a similar way to the conventional radio system.
Different modes of radio
Now we have covered the different types of radio systems we need to look into the different types of modes these systems operate on. You need to discover which mode your local authorities use in your area to ensure you can purchase the right radio scanner to tap into your local airwave.
Analog still today is the most common, efficient and effective way to transmit voice across the airwaves. All scanners are capable of monitoring analog transmissions and in regards to emergency service monitoring this commonly means FM type transmissions. However for aircraft / helicopter monitoring this is normally via AM transmissions.
Although many states still operate on an analog transmission method some states have turned to digital in order to secure their communications – which has made it slightly harder to tap into and also comes at a price. There are two main methods of digitally encoding voice transmissions which you need to be concerned with, the first is P25 CAI and the other ProVoice.
The most important thing to note down is that there are no scanners (on the open market) capable of decoding ProVoice transmissions. However there are scanners out there that can decode P25 but primarily comes at a premium price
Picking the best police scanner online
So by now you should know what a police scanner is and the different types of radio systems and transmissions that can be operated with. Now we are going to discuss what features to look out for when picking the best police radio scanner.
The number of channels a scanner has replicates how many transmissions you can listen to within one setting profile. A basic handheld model may only have the ability to store up to 10 or 20 channels which is good if you only want to listen to a few transmissions. However if you want to quickly change between a high number of transmissions then you will need to opt for a scanner with a higher number of channels.
Banks and Lists
If you have a scanner that features banks and lists then it will allow you to sort and organise your channels into simple categories which are known as ‘banks’. This allows you to keep your memory down and your scanner nicely organised.
Dynamic Memory Allocation
Having a scanner with the dynamic memory allocation feature means that it can automatically scan lists and sort them for you – similar to banks. This gives you fully control over the number of channels in each.
This is one of the top features for your scanner to have as it allows you to uncover unpublished frequencies. Although you can find most of your local frequencies in text books or from a quick search online – the search mode sends your scanner out to search for live/active unpublished frequencies. This option is perfect for picking up the gold of news on the airwaves.
This feature is a great way to quickly and effectively search for the services operating within your local area – this quick search will uncover your local police, firefighters and other emergency services. Great for if you are travelling or new to the area.
If you are unable to pick up a certain frequency in your area then it may be because they are using a trunked radio system. You will need a scanner with trunked tracking in order to tap into that type of system.
Scanning / Searching Speed
The scanning / searching speed is pretty self-explanatory in the sense that if you want a scanner that quickly scans through frequencies then this will feature is necessary.
This feature is very clever as it can effectively determine the right mode for a given frequency. This means that you will not miss out on finding the frequencies if your mode is set incorrectly.
This feature is one of the most important factors in finding a top notch scanner. A low number means a sensitive scanner which is NOT what we need. We’re aiming for a high sensitivity level as this will be what allows us to listen to signals even if we have a weak transmission.
Having a scanner with computer control allows you to fully or partially operate it from your desktop computer. This can be handy when downloading additional frequencies from database/list sources.