The 8 Best Police Scanners of 2020

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Best Overall: Whistler TRX-1

Whistler TRX-1
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Featuring simple zip code programming with pre-loaded USA and Canada options, Whistler’s TRX-1 is setting the standard for the way other police scanners should work. With a dedicated SKYWARN and weather button, as well as the ability to listen to both Digital Phase I and Phase II channels, the TRX-1 is feature-rich and ready for action. The fully backlit alphanumeric keyboard includes easy-to-use options such as scan, pause, select, as well as full navigational controls.

The TRX-1 will pick up all AM, FM and digital frequencies, as well as capture analog signals to cover the full spread of unencrypted communications through which police stay in touch. Overall, the sweeper and actual scanning are very quick with voice quality that borders on excellent. The included microSD card space offers enough extra memory to continue loading in saved zip codes or recording the action as it happens, as well as charging off an easy-to-find miniUSB, which can easily be powered from any USB charger.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Whistler TRX-2

Whistler TRX-2
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Not to be outdone by its sibling, the Whistler TRX-2 desktop digital scanner offers a different feature set than the TRX-1, but with nearly the same overall excellence. Featuring simple zip programming with pre-loaded USA and Canadian data on an included microSD card, there’s plenty to love right out of the box. Notably, there’s even more good news with easy software updating via a software download right in the comfort of your own home. The desktop-based design weighs 2.1 pounds, so it’s definitely not handheld even with the carrying handle, which also serves as a small stand lift when laid on a flat surface. Additionally, there’s a dedicated SKYWARN and weather button to announce inclement weather that aims to deliver the report well before your local news. With its slew of digital capabilities, the TRX-2 offers a range of channels, great range overall and a quality product well deserving of its price tag.

Best Home: Uniden HomePatrol-2

Uniden HomePatrol-2
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With an easy to rest stand, the Uniden HomePatrol-2 digital scanner with a pre-programmed database is a highly functional scanner that’s perfect for any room in the house. Introducing specialized features such as quick record, playback and instant replay, the Uniden is a highly recommended digital scanner that can be up and running in three minutes or less. There’s no programming needed here, just enter your zip code and HomePatrol-2 will load all the recognized police, fire and EMS channels in the surrounding area.

Weighing just 1.1 pounds, the HomePatrol-2 can be easily moved from room to room in the house and, with the included tilt stand, there’s room to both watch and see the scanner in action. Additionally, the inclusion of a touch screen was an industry first introduction with the HomePatrol-2. Uniden also includes rechargeable batteries that last between five to six hours before needed to recharge, but there's also an AC adapter cable for recharging directly from a wall outlet. 

Best Handheld: Uniden BCD436P HomePatrol

Uniden BCD436P HomePatrol
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Released in 2014, Uniden’s BCD436P HomePatrol series digital handheld scanner is designed for the hardcore scanner crowd. With more than 4GB of memory for Close Call RF capture and enhanced dynamic memory with narrowband reception, the Uniden offers a complete system that’s more than comfortable in your hand. Additionally, GPS connectivity, an extra-large display and discovery modes all help this advanced handheld scanner jump right to the top of your Amazon wish list. The LCD backlit keypad illuminates both the keys and screen to help you make lists of your favorite frequencies for quick referencing. At just one pound, it’s slightly less heavy than carrying an iPad, but is far more comfortable for one-handed operation. One notable quirk is that the Uniden requires the unit to be turned off for the batteries to charge. 

Best Digital: Uniden BCD996P2

There aren’t that many brands in the police scanner game (as you can probably tell with a quick skim of this very list). Obviously, Uniden is one of them. Meant as a one-stop-shop for analog scanning and digital listening, the BCD99P2 has you covered, even if it does so in a fairly large package. First, it covers all the communications modes including APCO 25 Phase I & II, X2-TDMA, Motorola, EDACS, and LTR trunked. It’ll also offer continuous band coverage spanning 25 MHz to 1.3 GHz, though that excludes cellular and UHF TV for the cleanest scanning signal. Factor in 25,000 different dynamically allocated channels and you’ll have enough options to cover all your local systems, recalled via the pretty-intuitive internal memory of the unit. In short, it’ll offer you similar features to Uniden’s BCT15X, but with the addition of digital scanning options. It all comes in an 11 x 3.75 x 8.5-inch unit with a bright display and easy-to-navigate buttons.

Best Analog: Uniden BC75XLT

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Featuring the ability to connect to public safety, military aircraft and racing scanner channels, Uniden’s BC75XLT is a terrific choice for analog scanner fans. The built-in search functionality is second-to-none and quickly identifies channels for police, fire, marine, air, weather and more, which makes the BC125AT a very much pickup-and-go analog scanner. The ability to save 300 channels into the scanner’s memory or 30 channels total in 10 separate banks allows easy scanning for current transmissions on each stored channel. Additionally, the inclusion of Close Call RF capture technology assists the BC75XLT in identifying and detecting nearby transmissions even if they aren’t pre-programmed into a channel. Powered by two AA batteries, the 14.4-ounce scanner is both lightweight and designed to fit in the hand with superb reception as long as you’re in a strong-signal area.

Best Vehicle: Uniden BCD536HP

Uniden BCD536HP
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Uniden’s BCD536HP scanner offers some of the easiest-to-program features available on a vehicle-based scanner. There’s even a Wi-Fi option that allows you to use the exclusive Uniden siren app on your smartphone or tablet to access the scanner from anywhere in the home or vehicle. The LCD backlit keypad helps to illuminate the keypad and display, so you can quickly program your favorite frequencies. Included within the packaging are home and auto power cords, as well as a mounting bracket for inside the vehicle (plus instructions for appropriate wiring and installation). There’s no battery power to worry since this Uniden scanner runs entirely off the car battery. Additionally, the BCD536HP was one of the first Uniden scanners to incorporate the HomePatrol data, which allows the easy entering of a zip code and you're ready to listen in.

Best Smartphone App: Smartest Apps 5-0 Radio Police Scanner

Courtesy of iTunes

While the focus of scanners is almost always concentrated on the utilitarian design of the handheld and car-ready hardware, there’s a new and most formidable entry in the market. The 5-0 Radio Police Scanner app available for the iPhone and Google’s Android software has had more than 25 million downloads. Users can listen to feeds in the background, including police/EMS/fire and military codes, as well as both aircraft and train feeds.

There’s even international coverage where available, so the scanner app can detect your location and determine relevant feeds you’ll want to follow. Currently free on both the App Store and Google Play, there’s also a pro option that offers 50,000 more feeds.

What to Look for in a Police Scanner

Portability - Police scanners are available as handheld units, mobile scanners that you can install in a vehicle, and desktop scanners that aren’t portable at all. If you only want to use your police scanner in one location, like your home, work, or car, then a desktop scanner or mobile scanner will suit you fine. If you want to have more options, go for a handheld police scanner. 

Analog vs. digital - Your ability to listen in on transmissions from your local police and other agencies hinges on compatibility between their transmitters and your scanner. Phase II digital scanners have the widest compatibility, but you’ll get by fine with a less expensive analog police scanner if your local agencies haven’t made the jump to digital yet.

Trunking - The other feature that can impact your ability to receive transmissions on a police scanner is trunking. Scanners that don’t support trunking cannot tune in to trunked systems, so this feature is an absolute must-have if your local agencies use trunk lines.