Best Police Scanner Base and Handheld Scanners: 2021 Buyer’s Guide
If you want to be able to monitor radio communications between emergency responders and police in your area then you need to use the best police scanner. Scanners feature a wireless design that allows you to pick up a wide range of different radio bands all at the same time. These devices are often referred to as radio scanners and maybe illegal to own in some states. Finding a model that’s right for you will depend on why you want a scanner, where you’ll use it, where you live, and your budget.
I’ve created a buyer’s guide that will go over the different features available, which ones you need to pay attention to, and the different types to choose from. I’ve reviewed several models currently on the market and narrowed it down to five versatile, powerful, and feature-packed scanners that scored well in a variety of areas including ease of use, range, reliability, and pricing.
Police Scanners Comparison Chart
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Best Handheld-Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner
This model by Uniden comes equipped with five hundred alpha-tagged channels. This handheld unit will allow you to tune into over forty-thousand frequencies for military and civilian bands, including:
- Amateur radio services
- Civil air
Its close call RF capture technology will allow you listen in on nearby transmissions, instantly. With the do not disturb mode, you can easily silence the scanner, preventing close call checks during use.
The five hundred channels are divided up into a total of ten storage banks, which makes it easy to find the channel you’re looking for. Channels can be organized by area of interest, location, department type, and more. You can use the alpha tagging feature to assign names to important channels, so you can easily keep track of local fires, road conditions, or crimes in action, all in real-time.
- Five hundred channels
- Ten storage banks
- Beginner friendly
- Highly portable
- Backlit display
- Do not disturb mode
- Forty thousand frequencies
- Difficult to set up
Versatile, offering forty thousand frequencies, ten banks, and total of five hundred channels, buyers can stay on top of local events, weather conditions, road conditions, ambulance dispatches, crimes in action, and much more.
Best Digital Police Scanner-Whistler WS1040 Handheld Digital Scanner
This model offers the Skywarn Storm Spotter feature, which will give you instant access to all frequencies that are used by storm spotter agencies. With most digital models, you may struggle with audio levels, which is why buyers love the digital AGC feature which is designed to compensate for low audio levels. The scan list feature allows you to arrange frequencies for quicker and easier access. The pre-programmed frequencies will allow you to quickly access important emergency agencies including fire, ambulance, and police.
- AGC feature boosts audio level
- Pre-programmed emergency channels
- Scan list
- Eighteen hundred channels
- Skywarn storm spotter function
- Not beginner-friendly
Easy to use, loaded with channels, and equipped with pre-programmed emergency channels and the Skywarn storm spotter function, this model will keep you up to date concerning local weather and road conditions, emergencies, and criminal activity.
Best Home Police Scanner-Whistler WS1065 Desktop Digital Scanner
Offering menu-driven programming, and scan list functionality, you can easily set this model up in a matter of minutes and organize all your favorite channels by taking advantage of the scan list and memory backup features. It’s also able to scan the most common trunked radio system signals, and comes with the popular digital AGC feature which will compensate for low user audio levels.
- Eighteen hundred frequencies
- AGC audio level compensation feature
- Menu-driven programming
- Memory backup
- Scan list
- Will not work in some areas
If you’re looking for a scanner base that’s perfect for home use, then your search is over. Loaded with great features designed to improve range, clarity, and sound, this feature-packed model is perfect for the buyer in need of a reliable scanner that will allow them to stay up to date with local events.
Best Portable Police Scanner-Uniden Home Patrol- Simple Program Digital Scanner
Use this model to quickly access channels for police, ambulance, fire, public safety, weather, military, and aircrafts. It’s both analog and digital capable, and comes with a desk stand, flex antenna for improved reception and range, and a USB cable. The simple setup is a huge selling point for beginners, especially considering many competing models can be very complicated to use. For this model, all you have to do is enter a zip code and the scanner will take care of the rest, giving you instant access to a variety of local channels.
- Twenty-five digital channels
- Twenty-five analog channels
- Desk mount and vehicle mount included
- Not Recommended for amateur radio use
As you can see, this is one of the most versatile digital and analog models on the market. Easy to setup and use, this model works well in both your vehicle and at home. The fast scan feature will give you instant access to a wide range of agencies, so you’ll always stay informed, whether you’re sitting at home in your office or making a cross country trip to visit relatives.
Best Car Police Scanner-Uniden Bear Tracker Scanner (BCT15X)
This model offers a total of nine thousand channels, complete with location-based scanning, which works by automatically choosing channels based on your location. Out of the box, this model comes pre-programmed with emergency channels chosen for every state. It also offers ten channel group quick keys per system, and continuous band coverage, wherever you go.
- Nine thousand channels
- Emergency channels pre-programmed for every state
- One hundred system quick keys complete with ten-channel group quick keys per system
- Location-based scanning
- Trunk tracker technology
- Does not come with user manual
If you’re looking for a versatile model, then check out this latest scanner by Uniden. It’s location-based scanning feature will automatically select local emergency channels so you can stay informed of road conditions, criminal activity, weather reports, and more, when you’re on the road.
If you’re familiar with how a AM/ FM radio works, then you know the basic concepts of a police scanner and how they function. The radio signals are broadcasted via radio waves. However, a scanner allows you to pick up more signals within the UHF to VHF range. Providing you with a chance to listen in on conversations that take place between emergency responders.
However, just because these devices are commonly referred to as police scanners doesn’t mean that you will only be able to listen to communications between police officers. In fact, you can also hear conversations that take place between:
- Highway patrol
- Security workers
- County, state, and federal agencies
Why You Need a Scanner
So why would you actually need to have a police scanner? First off, you can hear first-hand about local emergencies in your area, including natural disasters, break-ins, criminal manhunts, accidents on the freeway, and crimes in action. Additionally, you’ll always have the inside scoop regarding weather conditions and road conditions, and traffic, which can be very useful especially if you spend most of your day on the road commuting.
Are Scanners Legal?
In most cases, the use of a police scanner is totally legal. However there are communications that you are not legally allowed to listen into, this includes encrypted communications and cell phone conversations. Some states will also have strict restrictions in place regarding listen to a scanner while you’re driving. Listening to a police scanner in order to aid in a criminal activity is also against the law. If you’re not sure about the rules and restrictions of scanner used in your state please check your State’s website for more information as these rules can vary from state-to-state.
Scanners come in a couple of different designs, a base model and a handheld unit.
Essentially, a base scanner is a type of desktop model that you can hook up in a permanent spot and leave on. However there are some mobile-base devices that you can mount in your car. These devices are often mounted to the dash in place of a stereo. Mobile and base scanners are equipped with antennas and tend to feature a more impressive range compared to handheld devices.
These scanners are small and highly portable and can fit in a purse, messenger bag or a large coat pocket. Some people prefer to carry them around or even clip them onto their belt. Other models are so small they can easily fit in your pocket. However, as I just mentioned, these handheld devices don’t have near the range or clarity that the mobile or base devices offer. But to remedy this you can improve range and clarity by purchasing an antenna.
Each model has a different range to offer. Often the higher price models will provide a longer range and improved clarity. Before you purchase a new model you’ll need to do a search regarding the frequencies that are used in the area by your local emergency agencies, to determine if a particular model is compatible with your area.
If the model you choose operates on a single frequency for each channel then it’s categorized as a conventional system. You cannot use this type of model to listen to a trunk conversation.
What are Trunking Systems?
Trunking systems allow you to listen to a large number of agencies using just two or three radio frequencies. This design is meant for congested circumstances. Typically a trunking radio system is commonly used in urban areas and has the ability to pick up conventional signals. However a conventional radio system is unable to pick up a tracking signal
If you live in a larger city than the odds are that most emergency responders and police officers operate using a digital radio scanner. This type of scanner can be switched from digital to analog systems and they often offer the best sound quality and the farthest range. They’re definitely more expensive than the analog variety, but you’ll get more use out of one of these models.
So far these are the most affordable and basic scanners available. An analog model is typically used in smaller towns and large rural communities. Keep in mind that this type of scanner isn’t able to pick up signals that have been transmitted on a digital system. Before you buy this style of scanner make sure that you find out what type of system is commonly used in your area.
The number of channels a scanner has will vary from model to model. How many channels you need will also depend on what type of agency you want to listen in on. Most models will come with at least 10 channels which should be sufficient if you only want to monitor a few agencies in your area. If you want to listen to a larger number of agencies then you’ll need to go for a scanner that offers at least 20 channels so you can listen to the best digital police scanner frequencies.
Banks will allow you to keep track of several channels and categorize them. If you purchase a model that includes memory, then you can also categorize each channel into its own scan list. This feature is similar to the bank’s feature however you can have more control over the number of channels in each category.
While it’s possible to look up different police scanner frequencies online or in books, you can also purchase a model that does this for you. Search mode can allow you to easily find a wide range of federal government agencies.
A model’s scanning speed determines just how quickly it can go through channels. If your device features several channels to scan through then a model with a high search speed can be crucial. However, if you’re only listening to five channels than a model with this feature will not get used often. If you have more than 50 channels to go through then you’ll want a scanner with a high search speed of 60 to 90 channels per second.
How to Search for a Service
Some models come equipped with a service search mode which can be used to easily locate certain frequencies for firefighters, EMTs, police, and other types of emergency responders. This type of feature will be crucial if you spend plenty of time on the road.
If your scanner has this feature, then you’ll have the ability to operate your scanner via your computer. Some models will also allow you to download additional frequencies when the scanner is hooked up to your computer using a USB cable.
You’ll come across some models that are loaded with several knobs and buttons While others will only have two or three that operate the channels, volume, and frequencies. Police quality scanners will come loaded with buttons that you need to learn how to operate in order to get the most out of your scanner.
The squash button works to suppress static, while the W/X button allows you to do a quick search of NOAA channels and other types of pre-programmed frequencies. Most models will come equipped with a number keypad which you can use to manually punch in a frequency. The search button is what you’ll use to look for new frequencies. A manual search button allows you to go from channel to channel slowly. The scan button is self-explanatory however if you’re not familiar with the scanner then this mode allows you to Loop through all of your banks in order to detect active signals.
The large base models will allow you to keep track of current road conditions and crimes in the immediate area. Even the most basic models can be programmed to sync up with local systems, allowing you to tune in and you listen to emergency communications in real-time. However, it’s important for you to ensure that this type of scanner will work in your area considering certain areas can require the use of upgraded technology.
For more advanced applications in certain areas, a high-end digital scanner is a must. Some models will come pre-programmed, which will allow for improved functionality and better ease-of-use.
Using a scanner will also allow you to stay current on ambulance dispatches, local fires, and police activity. As you learn how to use your new scanner you will become familiar with local sources of interest. You will also find that many local crimes are not reported by your local news source, so it’s important to be informed of public safety events as they happen.
Scanners will allow you to listen to public safety agencies as well as the police as they communicate with each other regarding issues concerning safety, weather, road conditions. If you live in a part of the country that experiences harsh weather then staying on top of weather conditions will be important. Especially if you have to deal with heavy snowfall that often impacts road accessibility or heavy snowfall that can create hazards. The ability to listen in to these public agencies can give you a heads-up regarding whether or not you can even make it down the road to work.
What to Consider Before You Buy
Before you buy, it’s important that you already know what type of radio system the local county services use, since scanners are built for trunking systems, analog radio systems, or digital systems. The requirements will vary from place to place, with major cities using the most advanced digital models.
As I mentioned earlier there a couple of different types of scanner designs to choose from, handheld models which are highly portable, and desktop base models which are not Additionally, Some base models can also be installed in vehicles.
- Determine which type you think you’ll get the most use out of. If you’re a long-haul trucker then you spend most of your time on the road and because of this, it makes more sense to purchase a mobile unit than it would a handheld unit since the mobile devices tend to offer better range and improved clarity. If you spend a lot of time at home and want to keep up on what’s going on in your area then a desktop model is a better alternative.
- How much range do you need? Or, in other words how much distance do you want your scanner to be able to cover? Most models will come with an average 10 to 15-mile range, however, each model is different and local antennas and topography will both be major factors.
- Is the scanner’s display important? What kind of display do you need? There are alpha and numeric radiofrequency displays to choose from. With an alpha, it will display the name of the source, which makes it much easier for some people to read especially those who plan on listening to several different frequencies. If you only plan on listening into one local frequency then reading the numeric radiofrequency won’t be a big deal.
The best police scanners will keep you up-to-date in real-time regarding ambulance dispatches, crime in the area, current road conditions, and even current weather conditions. Whether you have a handheld model that you take with you wherever you go or a desktop model that you’ll switch on to check the local weather and road conditions, the right model can be invaluable if you know how to use it. I hope my buyer’s guide and reviews of the leading models on the market will help you narrow down your choices to find the perfect device to suit your needs, protect your family, and keep you up-to-date on local emergencies, criminal activities, road conditions, and so much more.