For some reason, a lot of people have it into their heads that it is illegal to listen to police scanners in the United States. It isn’t. In fact, it is 100% legal to do. Let’s dive in as we explore not only the legality of listening in, but why more and more people are doing it.
Yes – You Can Listen to Police Scanners
You can! In fact, you have a legal right to be able to listen to that scanner.
Police broadcasts are, for the most part, subject to the Freedom of Information laws that we have in this country. This means that unless there is an operational need to make the conversations private, you are able to listen as much as you want.
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, though. For example; some states will not allow you to listen to a police scanner in your vehicle. Others won’t let you listen in the commission of a crime, although we assume that if somebody was committing a crime, they probably wouldn’t care about that rule anyway. Basically, just look at what your state requires.
Why Listen to Police Scanners?
Well, it is useful if you are planning to commit a crime. You need to know where the police are, right? Well, jokes aside, the humble police scanner is used for a lot of different reasons.
Obviously, listening in on police frequencies, or emergency service frequencies in general, is just entertaining. It is nice to listen to whatever is going on in your local area. Now, we can’t promise you that everything that happens is entertaining. You probably don’t want it to be. An entertaining police frequency means that there is some serious crime going down, and nobody wants that happening in their area. But, listening in on police radio frequencies provides a nice little break from the TV.
It is also great for keeping up to date with crime in your local area. Let’s be honest, the police are not going to talk about every crime that is happening. Only the major ones get reported. This means that you won’t be able to find out about your neighbor kicking over a garbage can or something through the news (why won’t they talk about this blatant crime?), but you will certainly be able to hear about it on the police scanner! Honestly, a good scanner is probably one of the best ways to keep up with happenings in your area.
Other people will use it to keep up to date with traffic police in the local area. It means that they can be a little bit more careful while driving on the roads. Obviously, there are some ethical concerns about this, but as long as the police scanner is making somebody drive a little bit safer on the roads, then we are all for it! Of course, don’t forget to think about what we said earlier; there are some states that will ban you from having a police scanner in your vehicle.
To cap it off; police scanners, good ones at least, can pick up on so much more than police frequencies. Just about anything that is being broadcast on public channels can be picked up by even a discount police radio scanner. Of course, this requires the scanner to be programmed for it. A lot of this is going to be a lot more exciting than anything the police share. Think along the lines of military transmissions, and maybe even some aircraft flying overhead. Nothing classified, mind you, but interesting enough.
How Do I Find Radio Frequencies for Police in My Local Area?
Easy! You use a site like RadioReference.com. This is the largest database of radio frequencies in the world. We can guarantee that the frequencies for your local area, no matter how small it is, will be found on this site.
Of course, if you pick up the right equipment (more on that in a short while), then you will have something that updates automatically when connected up to your computer. This means that you don’t have to ‘know’ what the frequencies are, your radio will just automatically tune into the right frequency. This is even better if you have a radio scanner that comes loaded with a GPS. You won’t have to do anything but flick on the radio and hit that scan button!
The Right Equipment
As you may well know; there are apps and the like to be able to listen in on police scanners. We do not really recommend those. The only time you should be using an app is if you want to listen to a police broadcast that is nowhere near where you live. For your local area, you should always ensure that you use dedicated equipment. It means that you get to enjoy better audio quality, and you do not need to deal with the lag that police scanner apps normally have. A good proportion of apps we stumbled across were a good 10-15 minutes behind. Not very useful!
Nowadays, you will also need to ensure that the equipment that you purchase is capable of receiving digital radio signals. Do not buy an analog radio scanner. Most emergency services now broadcast digital-only, which means you won’t be able to receive any sort of signal with an old bit of kit. Luckily for you, digital is going to be the standard going forward. This means that if you pick up a quality radio scanner (check out our reviews), then you will have something that will serve you well for decades to come.
Finally; make sure that you are on the lookout for a bit of kit that enables you to update the frequencies. Emergency services, especially the police, love to change their frequencies regularly. If you can’t update the lists on your device easily, then you won’t be able to hear emergency broadcasts. Your scanner will be useless!
If you are looking for a great cheap used police scanner to use, then check out the reviews we have put together! They are the most useful radio scanner reviews online (and we aren’t just saying that!)