The 7 Best Police Scanners of 2020

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The Rundown
"The Uniden Beartracker 885 is a full-featured CB radio and digital trunk tracking police scanner."
"The Uniden BC365CRS is a 500 Channel Scanner for a great price."
"A highly functional scanner that’s perfect for any room in the house."
"Covers all the communications modes including APCO 25 Phase I & II, X2-TDMA, Motorola, EDACS, and LTR trunked."
"The built-in search functionality is second-to-none and quickly identifies channels for police, fire, marine, air, weather and more."
"Offers some of the easiest-to-program features available on a vehicle-based scanner."
"Can detect your location and determine relevant feeds you’ll want to follow."

The best police scanners are easy to set up and use, providing clear audio quality on a broad range of frequencies. These devices let you stay on top of local events and ahead of the curve in several potentially dangerous situations. You can also use a police scanner to stay abreast of local news before it's reported on television, you can get weather alerts and find out about an impending natural disaster, or you can tune into amateur radio channels. 

Our top pick, the Uniden BearTracker 885 (view on Amazon), exceeds these standards and includes additional features like a CB radio, a noise-canceling microphone, nearby public safety alerts, and built-in GPS. It's easily the best police scanner on the market, and it serves as an alternative to a standalone CB radio or radar detector

Best Overall: Uniden BearTracker 885

What We Like
  • Hybrid CB radio and trunk-tracking scanner

  • Has GPS

  • Noise-canceling microphone

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Although it’s one of the pricier options on this list, the Uniden Beartracker 885 is a full-featured CB radio and digital trunk tracking police scanner. It has GPS included, so it can automatically select nearby channels from its database (which is updated weekly). You don’t have to do any sort of complex programming while you drive, as the scanner does the work for you. It provides weather alerts, PA functionality, and more, and you can easily read the LCD. 

For anyone who spends a lot of time on the road, this is an excellent device for communications, safety, and general peace of mind. It alerts you when there’s a nearby public safety transmission, so it serves as a radar detector alternative. The BearTracker 885 has a noise-canceling mic that allows for clear conversation, and it’s also wireless mic compatible.

Best Budget: Uniden BC365CRS

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Good reception

  • Useful features 

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat old school 

The Uniden BC365CRS is a 500 Channel Scanner that also serves as an alarm clock, an AM/FM radio, and FM broadcast radio, and a weather alert device. It includes 500 channels in 10 Banks, so you can search police and fire bands, as well as aircraft, amateur radio, and marine transmissions.

The BC365CRS takes three AA batteries, and it includes an antenna and AC adapter in the package. This is designed as a tabletop scanner, so it’s not the best option to take with you on the go. 

The reception will depend somewhat on your geographic area and the type of transmissions you’re attempting to receive. Most users say they receive clear audio with police, fire, weather, and radio transmissions, but this is a basic, analog, non-trunking scanner, so it may not be able to pick up transmissions from some agencies. It’s best to check the compatibility against the local agencies in your area.

Best Home: Uniden HomePatrol-2

What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Lightweight

  • Includes rechargeable batteries

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't include a power adapter

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. Including specialized features such as quick record and playback, the Uniden is a highly recommended digital scanner that can be up and running in minutes. 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. It includes channel information for the US and Canada from radioreference.com.

Weighing just over a pound, the HomePatrol-2 is easy to tote around. Additionally, the inclusion of a touch screen was an industry first with the HomePatrol-2. Uniden also includes rechargeable batteries that last between five to six hours. It comes with a USB charging cord that you can connect to a standard USB power brick.

Best Digital: Uniden BCD996P2

What We Like
  • GPS compatibility

  • Feature rich

  • Includes ample accessories

What We Don't Like
  • Some features require paid upgrades

There aren’t that many brands in the police scanner game (as you can probably tell with a quick skim of this very list), but Uniden is a major player in the world of scanners. Meant as a one-stop-shop for analog scanning and digital transmissions, the Uniden BCD99P2 is one of the better scanners out there. Whatever your needs, the BCD99P2 most likely has you covered, even if it does so in a fairly large package. 

The BCD99P2 is capable of location-based scanning, and it can detect nearby radio transmissions. The TrunkTracker V scanner also offers continuous band coverage spanning 25 MHz to 1.3 GHz. Factor in 25,000 different dynamically allocated channels, and you’ll have enough options to cover all your local systems, recalled via the intuitive internal memory of the unit. It all comes in a compact 11 x 3.75 x 8.5-inch unit with a bright display and easy-to-navigate controls.

Best Analog: Uniden Bearcat BC75XLT Handheld Scanner

What We Like
  • Compact and portable

  • Has close call RF technology

  • Simplistic design

What We Don't Like
  • Weaker reception in some areas

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 it quickly identifies channels for police, fire, marine, air, weather, and more, which makes the BC75XLT a very much pickup-and-go analog scanner. 

You can save 300 channels into the scanner’s memory or 30 channels total in 10 separate banks. This makes it easy to scan 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 BC75XLT is both lightweight and designed to fit in the hand. Overall, it has good reception as long as you’re in a strong signal area.

Best Vehicle: Uniden BCD536HP

What We Like
  • Wi-Fi enabled 

  • Connects remotely to Uniden Siren App

  • No programming required

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Uniden’s BCD536HP scanner offers some of the easiest-to-program features available on a scanner. You just type in your zip code, and the scanner does the work for you. 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 illuminate the unit, so you can see it in the dark and quickly access the controls. Included within the packaging are home and auto power cords, as well as a mounting bracket for inside the vehicle and a Wi-Fi dongle and telescoping antenna. There’s no battery power to worry about since this Uniden scanner runs entirely off the car battery (or a power adapter). 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

What We Like
  • Free

  • No equipment necessary (aside from your phone)

  • It actually works

What We Don't Like
  • In-app purchasing

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, which has millions of 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 in both the Apple Store and Google Play, there’s also a pro option that offers 50,000 more feeds.

Final Verdict

 The BearTracker 885’s included GPS, CB radio, and noise-canceling microphone make it an excellent choice for truckers or anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. For an inexpensive handheld option, the Uniden Bearcat BCT5XLT is a good model to check out. If you want to try out scanning, test out the free 5-0 Radio Police Scanner app. 

What to Look for in a Police Scanner

Portability - Police scanners are available as handheld units, as mobile scanners you install in a vehicle, or as desktop scanners that aren’t portable at all. If you only want to use your police scanner in one location, 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. Digital scanners tend to have the best 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. 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 a must-have if your local agencies use trunk lines. Radioreference.com is an excellent resource for finding out if you can receive analog signals in your area.

Additional features- Do you want a basic scanner or a police scanner with extra bells and whistles? Some scanners may have extra features like an alarm clock, GPS, Wi-Fi, or CB radio functionality. 

About our Trusted Experts

David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He has written and managed content for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.

Erika Rawes has been a professional writer for more than 10 years, and she has spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. She currently writes for Digital Trends and Lifewire, where she has evaluated and reviewed hundreds of gadgets.