Do you want to listen to digital police scanners? Well, read on! We have all the information you need to ensure that listening in goes as smoothly as possible for you.


Is It Legal to Listen to Digital Police Scanners?

Yep! This is assuming that you are located within the United States. We can’t speak for the legality of it in other countries.

Anything broadcast on open radio waves in the United States is ‘fair game’. As long as you have purchased your radio scanner within the country, and from a reputable source, then it shouldn’t be able to pick up on anything restricted. Any signal that it picks up, you can listen to. This won’t just be the police either. You may pick up on the military, boats, or maybe some security guard chatter that hasn’t been locked down properly.

This is not to say that everything the police broadcast can be listened to. We’d imagine that if they’re in the midst of a massive drug bust, they’re not going to be using open channels. That said, due to the freedom of information laws which we have in this country, nearly everything should be done ‘in public’.

Do bear in mind that there are some states which have additional restrictions in place. Of those, generally the one likely to impact you the most is use of police scanners in your vehicle. This is to help prevent drivers from being able to see where police are in the local area. After all, if people could listen to police in the local area, then they would be using it to avoid traffic tickets and the like.

Why Digital Police Scanners?

Barely any emergency service is broadcasting on analog radio waves nowadays. This means that if you have an analog radio scanner, you won’t be able to hear anything. It simply cannot pick up digital soundwaves so the vast majority of what you’d hear would be static.

Digital radio signals however, are going to be around for decades to come. If you pick up a nifty little unit today that boasts digital signals, then you can be sure that it is ‘future proof’.

scanner radio

Should You Listen Through Mobile Apps?

You can, but we wouldn’t really recommend it. Not if you want the best listening experience.

What you must remember is that you aren’t really scanning through these apps. Instead, other people are sitting with radio scanners, and they are uploading the audio. You have no idea whether you’re listening to the listed frequency. You have no idea if the broadcast is current (there will likely be a minute or two delay minimum), and you’re certainly not getting the best listening quality. In fact, some of the broadcasts we have heard are pretty shoddy.

With that in mind, mobile apps do have some benefits. Perhaps the biggest is the lower cost and the fact that you’ll be able to listen to broadcasts outside of your area. However, since these apps are user-controlled, you’re still going to be at the whim of the broadcasters. If you’re trying to listen to things in your local area, then you certainly wouldn’t be able to tap into every frequency. You’ll only get to listen to what others have deemed interesting.

By all means, start with an app if you’re not sure if you want to be scanning regularly. We promise it won’t be long before you want to get your hands on your own equipment. Luckily for you, that is what our next section is about. Convenient, huh?

How Do I Start with the Right Radio Scanning Equipment?

Easy! A good place to start would be by reading our reviews. While the popularity of scanners has fallen a little bit (you can thank the apps for that), there are still quite a few models out there. Our team of editors has gone through as many of them as possible, and we have a ton of trusted experience in scanning. 

When you’re searching for a police scanner, you’ll want to ensure that you can easily change the frequencies you’re able to tune into. Not many people are aware of this, but the police change their broadcast frequencies fairly frequently. There are some forces throughout the country that may change them every few months. If you can’t update your frequencies, then your scanner basically becomes useless.

The best police scanners on the market will have the ability to update all of the frequencies automatically. Top of the range scanners will have some sort of GPS built into them which automatically detects your location and tunes into the right stations.

If you’re unsure as to which frequencies the police are broadcasting on, then we recommend you use a website like This will provide you with absolutely every current frequency which people are using. So, if you do have one of the older radio scanners without the ability to manually update frequencies, you’ll always be able to program it yourself.

Finally; pay attention to build quality. Cheaper police scanners are abysmal. Often, they barely pick up signals, even with a quality antenna. When they do, the sound quality is not so great. If you’re planning to use a police scanner a lot (and we hope that you are because it’s fun) make sure you spend a good few hundred dollars on something that’s going to last you the long haul. You will enjoy the hobby a whole lot more.