Beginner's Guide to Police Scanners

What is a Police Scanner?

One-way radio receivers, commonly called “police scanners," are radios designed to tune into radio frequencies used by police, fire, EMS and a wide variety of other emergency services and government agencies.

This includes rail, aircraft, and racing, which are three popular subgroups of the scanning hobby.

This guide covers the following:


Chapter 1:

What Can I Listen To?


Below is a police call from the Detroit Police Department


Below is a fire call from the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department


Below is an EMS call from Detroit EMS


Below is for NASCAR racing

Below is for Aviation scanning

The clips above allow you to simulate what you'd be able to hear with a scanner.


The transmissions that you'd pull range from humorous to sobering to gruesome, so you should be prepared to experience a wide range of (sometimes) uncomfortable activity on a scanner.


Chapter 2:

Can I Just Use an Online Stream or an App?


Stream Online & Apps

There are several places online where you can find free feeds of scanner communication.

While online feeds and apps have opened up scanning to a whole new generation, they have several limitations, including:

  • Online feeds and apps are just streams from other people’s scanners, so you are reliant on them to keep their feed up and running.
  • In an emergency, these feeds can and have been taken down (this happened during the Boston Marathon bombing).
  • Finding smaller agencies is difficult. Essentially Police and Fire/EMS channels are your only listening options.


Chapter 3:

Forums & Community


Police scanner forums are a great resource for beginner's. They can also be a bit daunting if you run into swathes of unfamiliar jargon and scanner vets, or as we call them "Power Users."


Uniden has forums for individual scanners, like the HomePatrol-2. This forum have become a place where all Uniden are discussed.


Radio Reference has the most specific and in-depth forums. This is a place where you can ask or search questions you may have about your scanner model or a specific area of scanning.


This is, otherwise, a great place to make Scanner Fan Friends!

Beginner's Guide to Police Scanners

Chapter 4:

Which Scanner Do I Need?


The short answer happens to be the best scanner of 2019, 2020, and 2021:

You can get a customized scanner recommendation here.


Fill out this form and we will recommend the best scanner for you and your area.


Your custom scanner recommendation will be sent ASAP.


Want a quicker answer? Check out our Which Police Scanner widget!


1. Navigate to

2. Click "Shop"


3. Click the textbox to enter the State you are interested in.


4. For our example, we entered "California"

5. Click here to let our widget know your interest.


6. Click "View Results"


7. Our device page will auto-populate according to what systems California is using.


8. You can also start over and search by county as well!


9. For this example; we chose Los Angeles County of California.

10. As you can see, our widget will auto-populate based on what you type! Pretty slick, huh!


11. HOLD IT! Our widget will inform you of encryption if there is any.


12. Click the "Encryption Affected Area (learn more)" to read more about encryption.


13. Despite the encryption, you can still check to see what is used in Los Angeles County.


14. Now let's pick a county that is not encrypted.


15. For our example, we chose Sacramento County. Notice how we did not even have to fully type out the county, and the widget still knew what we wanted!


16. Click "View Results" DISCLAIMER: As of May 24, 2021; Sacramento is not heavily encrypted. We recommend looking on Radio Reference for more information about your location(s) of interest.


17. Once again, the device page will change according to what systems the county of Sacramento is using.


Chapter 5:



How Far Away Will My Scanner Work?

About 30-50 miles from the tower that transmits the signal. This will vary greatly based on where you live and what’s around you (buildings, trees, hills, etc.).

Scanners work on line of site and from the tower; 30-50 miles is the range.  

How Do I Program My Scanner?

We can program your scanner for you!

Each scanner is different, please consult your owner’s manual or visit your scanners' product page to see details on that particular scanner.  

Can I Listen to Cell Phones/Drive-Thru Speakers?

No. That's weird, dude. Find the closest calendar, it is no longer 1985, McFly.

Is There a Scanner That Can Pick Up Encryption?

No, not legally. Sorry, folks.

Beginner's Wrap-Up 

Police Scanners can be stupid straightforward or crazy convoluted.

The answers you need can fall anywhere in between those two extremes.

You've torn apart this guide and still can't find an answer to your question(s)?

Please reach out to