Police Scanners: Opening The World To Monitoring Police Radios

April 20, 2018

Police Scanners: Opening The World To Monitoring Police Radios

by Ian D Scofield

Only a number of departments have very clear rules on what you can and can’t transmit on the radio. There are obviously rules in place for being professional, but what about OPSEC and other traffic? Most police radio systems can be monitored by the public with incredible ease.

Police scanners have become popular since they first became commercially available. While there are only two main scanner companies selling in the United States today, they are quite popular. Whistler and Uniden are the two main producers.

Today we are going to spend some time going over the basics of scanners for two reasons. One, you might be interested in listening to your radio at home without having to take home your department radio. It is also a good idea to know how easy it is to listen to police radios.


Police scanners work like most other radios that you can think of. For example, the radio that you have in your car. The only difference is that the number of frequencies that a police scanner can pick up is much greater. Higher end scanners can pick up anything from ~40 Mhz all the way up to ~1000.

Radio transmissions can be sent in one of two ways: as a digital signal or an analog signal. Almost all bigger jurisdictions have moved to digital radios that have a clearer signal and more capabilities. End-to-end encryption, text messaging, and individual radio IDs are just some of the features that digital radios have. Smaller jurisdictions and those with less resources may still operate on analog channels.

Trunked radio systems allow various agencies to operate under one control frequency. Under the control frequency, a network of talkgroups operate. Often, a county or region will operate under one trunked system. In my area, a large number of agencies share a trunked system and each area operates under its own talkgroup. Each talkgroup contains a number of different groups.

King County, where I live, has over 20 different channels in the government talkgroup section. Everything from fire departments to public works has frequencies in this channel. Not every talkgroup is that big and it depends on the area.

Analog scanners are more affordable and there are a variety of them that can be found on the market. In fact, an analog scanner can be purchased for less than $150.

Digital scanners start around $300 and offer far more features. From storing large number of frequencies to controlling the scanner from your computer. All of these features allow you to get a lot more out of your radio. You can also listen to more complex systems such as trunked systems and Motorola P25 systems.

How Do You Find Out Your Frequency?

If you want to find out what radio frequency your department operates on you have several options. The easiest way is to visit https://www.radioreference.com/. Radio Reference contains lists of frequencies for a large number of agencies around the world. If you use a digital program such as FreeSCAN or ProSCAN to program your scanner, you can even import frequencies inside the program so that you don’t have to type everything out.

Agencies that aren’t listed on the website might be a little harder to find. You can browse the FCC database to see if you can find your agency’s frequencies listed on there. This can be time consuming and doesn’t always work.

Some people have had success going to the companies that service their agencies radios and inquiring about the frequencies there. This might be your best option if you know the company that takes care of your radios.

Another option is to visit one of the many radio forums and ask around. Chances are there are other people who like to use scanners in your area. They can help you get set up.

Lastly, as the name implies, you can scan for your department’s frequencies. When you get into digital trunked systems, this can be a little more complicated. You will have to consult your scanner’s capabilities. In most cases it is easier to program the scanner before using it.


Broadcastify is a website full of streaming radios. Volunteers stream their radios to Broadcastify in order to get benefits such as gift cards. Some streamers also do it just because they enjoy raising interest in the radio world. Fire, police, EMS, aircraft, rail, marine, and other radio frequencies can be found on the website. While not every area has a Broadcastify feed available, more and more frequencies are becoming available every day.

On their website, Broadcastify boasts that they have over 5,000 different streams available.

It is important to realize how easy it is to listen in to most police radio frequencies. I have a scanner and while I sometimes find it frustrating when I attempt to do more complex things with it, I can listen to most agencies in the area. Remember that anything and everything you say on the radio has the potential to be overheard. Stay safe out there.


About The Author:

Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice.  He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer.  At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content.  Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.

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