Choose A Police Scanner
“Its all about having control over the situation”
By now, you may be realizing that the amount of control that you have with an online police scanner is extremely limited. Whenever some crazy incident heats up and the action starts, you probably want to only monitor that incident. There is nothing worse than being forced to listen to a traffic stop in between a high-speed pursuit. However, this is a reality with an online police scanner because the darn thing does not provide you with the ability to lock on one channel at a time. This is a really frustrating reality when relying on an online scanner. This is why I want to help you choose your own police scanner, if this is an activity that you enjoy. I know how much I love it, and want to help you if you are contemplating purchasing a dedicated police scanner for yourself. This post will cover some of the preliminary decisions that will help you choose a police scanner.
“To buy or not to buy, that is the question”
So, first things first, why would you want to buy a police scanner for yourself versus listening to an online police scanner. Here are the main reasons that I monitor my own police scanner versus listening in online.
- Your own police scanner allows you to stop on a single channel or talk group. This one single feature is invaluable.
- Your own police scanner allows you to limit or expand the geographic area you wish to monitor.
- Your own police scanner lets you expand or limit the number and types of communications traffic you wish to monitor.
- Monitoring an actual police scanner in most cases is legal to monitor at home, whereas listening to an online scanner, especially on a smart phone can be illegal in some cases.
- Having your own police scanner gives you many more options, settings, and features over an online police scanner.
- Some communications that you wish to monitor may not be covered by an online scanner. For example military and federal frequencies are generally not streamed online for obvious security reasons.
Now that you see just some of the reasons why owning your own police scanner is more ideal than using an online police scanner, lets discuss some things you should consider as you begin to choose a police scanner.
“Handheld versus Base models”
In the simplest terms a handheld scanner looks like a walkie-talkie whereas a base model looks more like something akin to a car stereo. There really is little difference between the operation of the two scanner types. The main consideration is to think about where you will be doing the majority of your monitoring. If you will be monitoring mostly in one location, say in your home, then a desktop police scanner may be the best choice for you. If you feel that you may monitor in the house, in the garage, in your yard, or many other places, then perhaps a handheld or mobile police scanner is best suited for you. If you are really unsure, then I would choose a handheld police scanner as you can sit in one location with it, or use it wherever you wish.
“Agency and communication preferences”
Before choosing a police scanner, you should think about the types of agencies, services, and communication types that you wish to monitor. This will be extremely important in the specific scanner that you choose because you want to make sure the scanner covers both the bands you want to monitor, as well as having the correct monitoring mode capabilities.
Since many people are primarily interested in listening to police and fire communications, you will want to see which bands, communication modes, and communications types are in use for your area. I know this sounds a bit intimidating, but it is fairly simple. First, what you will need to find out is if your area uses conventional or trunked communication systems. Second, you will need to find out if analog, digital, or both communications modes are used for public safety communications in your area. Relax, I’ve got this, it is easy to find this information out. The first thing you will want to do is head over to radioreference.com and click on “databases”. Then click on your state, and then click on your county. Once you are there, start looking for terms like “trunked system”, or “digital”. Also, if you find out your area has a trunked system, look at the “mode” column to see if there is an “A” for analog, or a “D” for digital, or if both are used. This will be important in determining what mode and communication systems type the agencies in your area use.
“Wait, this is all Greek to me”
If you find this terminology and research a bit intimidating or confusing at this juncture, no problem, do not panic, I have you covered. I did not understand any of this when I first started in this hobby either. It will eventually come to you as you learn along the way. No worries. At this point, all we are trying to do right now is determine what technology types the public safety agencies use in your area, and if they can be monitored by existing scanner technology. The easiest and best way to figure this out if you are new is to navigate to the radioreference.com forums and click on your state. There are individual links for each state, and some are broken down into metropolitan areas within each state. My advice is to go into your state and create a post for your area explaining that you are new to scanners and would like to know what systems are used by the public safety agencies in your area. You should first ask whether digital, analog, or both are used for public safety communications in your area. Also, it would be helpful to ask if trunking systems are used in your area, and which type is in use. Finally, in your post, ask if the systems in your area can be monitored by either a digital or analog scanner. This should get you the information that you need. The people on the radioreference.com forums are friendly, smart, and helpful. You should bookmark their site as it is one of the most comprehensive radio communication and scanner websites on the internet. You will likely frequent the site often.
“What does the future hold?”
Now that you have a better idea of whether trunking is used in your area, as well as analog or digital modes, we can then consider some other items when choosing a police scanner. First, I want to say that I know funds are always a primary consideration when choosing a police scanner. However, it would be in your best interest to find out what the future holds for technology in your area. If your research on radioreference.com turns up that your area is currently using analog systems but will likely be shifting to a digital system within a year or so, then I would really strongly suggest choosing a digital police scanner now, so that you will not have to buy a new, more expensive scanner in a year or two. In this case it may be better to buy this technology up front. However, if you receive confirmation from those in the know that your area will use older analog trunked, or conventional technology for the foreseeable future then you may be able to choose a simpler less expensive police scanner.
“Bands, modes, and communications types…Oh my.”
Here are some things that you may also want to consider when you choose a police scanner. Think about the types of communication and services that you are interested in monitoring and make sure the scanner you choose includes the proper band and modulation type for those communications.
- If you are interested in listening to aircraft communications you will want a police scanner that contains the 108 – 136 MHz band in AM mode.
- If you would like to monitor military aircraft communications then you will want to purchase a scanner that includes coverage in the 225 – 400 MHz band AM mode.
- If you want to monitor military base communications systems then you will want to choose a scanner that covers from approximately 390 – 420 MHz in digital mode.
- If you are interested in monitoring federal communications (FBI, DEA, U.S. CBP, TSA, Secret Service etc.), then you will need a scanner that includes coverage from approximately 160 – 174 MHz in digital mode. Please note that almost all of these communications are encrypted full-time. However, you can sometimes find some of these communications in the clear, which can be a lot of fun at times.
- NASCAR fans can listen to race cars at the track if the scanner you choose covers the frequency range from 450 – 470 MHz in analog mode.
- If you live near a body of water with boating activity, you should choose a scanner that contains the frequency range covering 156 – 158 MHz in analog mode.
- If you wish to monitor freight, trolley, subway, and passenger train activity, then you should choose a scanner that covers the 160 – 162 MHz range in analog mode.
“Are you a techie or not?”
If you are very comfortable with technology, then you will feel right at home programming your scanner yourself, or using software systems to program. Almost any scanner on the market will be within your comfort zone if you are technically inclined. However, if you feel that you are not very comfortable with technology, or are not comfortable working with software, do not fear. There are scanners on the market that make this super easy. The Uniden Home Patrol line of scanners connects to a database containing all of the frequencies and talk groups in your area, which eliminates the need for you to program your scanner yourself. In fact, using the scanner interface is menu driven and is a lot like using your trusty smart phone. Additionally, if you hate the idea of programming a scanner at all, at least one model of the Uniden Home Patrol line uses an add-on GPS unit to reprogram your scanner as you travel by geographic area. The scanners on the market just keep getting better and better.
I hope you found this post helpful. I hope that you now see the benefits of owning your own scanner and how to choose a model that contains the bands and features that you want to monitor. You see, when you own your very own scanner, you can monitor what you want, when you want, and that is root of all the fun. Until next time, Happy Listening!