In general police scanners are legal and can be used, however, they must be utilized in certain ways that are not considered unlawful.
It would be obvious to say that they cannot be used to assist in committing a crime. Drug dealers listening in on the position of the police in order to know if the coast is clear to make their deliveries, or burglars wanting to know which house to break into without the risk of being caught are clearly utilizing police scanners for the purpose of carrying out a crime. This is illegal in every state!
On the other hand though, because police scanners provide a means of ensuring the safety of the public, they are not only permitted but are even recommended in certain instances. Being kept updated with alerts or emergencies near to you means that you are prepared in advance and know, what to expect, how to react and what procedures to take. For example, if there has been a break-in in your area and the burglars have been reported as armed and dangerous, you can take the necessary precautions, such as not driving home after work and going over to a friend until the situation is under control. If there has been a serious car accident resulting in closed roads and traffic jams, you can take an alternate route to avoid being affected. Therefore police scanners, if used responsibly, can provide many benefits.
In recent years, most police departments have opted for a system known as APCO-25. This has made all cheap and basic scanners ineffective. Only users of more advanced scanners can still take advantage of this system.
Besides that, major states such as Texas have encrypted all the police radio transmissions making them inaccessible to the public. Nowadays, as a result of changes and advancements in technology, these procedures significantly limit the capabilities of the majority of scanners available.
Police scanners are legal to own and operate, however, some radio bands are blocked to safeguard privacy or for official government use. All other frequencies are permitted for use by the public. This is mainly due to the fact that information broadcasted via airwaves is considered public property.
Nevertheless, there are two types of restrictions which vary according to different state laws, not federal laws. These restrictions mainly forbid the use of police scanners while driving and for aiding in committing crimes. If you’re looking to purchase, you can check out our full Police Scanner Buyer’s Guide.
We've created a buyer's guide that will tell you everything you need to know to buy the best police scanner.