A handheld police scanner is an essential tool for cops, but it can be a great hobby for other users, especially Hams who may already be owning a ham radio.
But the communication systems have changed a lot at the emergency services in the United States, so you must put in some research to make sure you’re going with the right scanner for your needs. We have done most of it for you, though, and will walk you through what we have found to be the 5 best handheld police scanners on the market.
Best Handheld Police Scanners
Here are our handheld police scanner reviews.
The Uniden BCD436HP is another excellent police scanner from Uniden. It comes with a lot of advanced features and a great overall capability too, allowing you to listen to all types of things covering a wide range of frequencies and channels.
However, the operation is much easier and surprisingly simple. All you need to do is put your local zip code and it automatically pulls all the frequencies available in your area. Perhaps one of the best things for beginners is that it doesn’t require to be programmed! It’s kind of plug and play with great simplicity.
The sound is pretty good and clear too, and the build quality is solid.
- Excellent functionality with tons of advanced features
- Amazingly easy to use with no programming required
- Covers all types of channels and services
- Great sound and build quality
- If you want to use all the advanced features you will need to put some effort into understanding them
The Uniden BCD325P2 is one of the most complete handheld police scanners that comes with the ability to scan and listen to all types of frequencies, including the latest ones used by the police department and law enforcement. It would also allow you to listen to other types of frequencies and channels like fire and air traffic control, which would definitely fascinate you if you’re not a cop and buying a scanner for your hobby.
It boasts as many as 25,000 dynamically allotted channels, comes with the Close Call RF functionality, supports NOAA alerts and weather updates just like a weather radio does, and there are an incredible number of features and capabilities.
The sound is good, and the unit is compact, portable but well-built. The battery life is on the lower side though and the programming can give you a really hard time. However, if you use a computer to program it will turn out to be much easier.
- One of the most complete scanners that covers all types of digital and trunked frequencies
- You can listen to pretty much everything, including police, fire, ambulance, air traffic and more
- Tons of features and functionalities
- Durable and compact
- It can be very difficult to program this unit without using a computer
- The battery life is a bit disappointing, but you can replace them for better rechargeable batteries
The Whistler WS1040 is one of the more beginner-friendly police scanners you will find on the market. However, a lot depends on how you approach the programming. We recommend downloading the Butel ARC500 software’s trial version, and watching YouTube videos on “ScannerMaster Radio Shack Scanner Programming”. The radio is different, but the programming instructions apply to this unit as well and they are easy to follow.
Then you install the required software on your PC, and then get punching in the frequencies you want. You can find them all on the RadioReference website. You can put hundreds of frequencies in a matter of minutes.
Being a digital scanner, the WS1040 would cover all types of frequencies and channels too. The sound quality is pretty good as well, and there are many advanced features, including a Skywarn Storm Spotter functionality that gives you instant access to storm spotter networks.
- Turns out to be pretty beginner-friendly with some research
- Easier to program than it might seem with the right instructions
- Covers all types of emergency services and local channels, including the storm spotter networks
- Some common frequencies accessible with one-click buttons
- Unlike the above scanners there’s more manual work with this unit, but it’s only one-time
- User manual is not very helpful
Now, if you’re after something very cheap but functional, the Uniden Bearcat BC125AT would be right up your alley. However, let us tell you right off the bat it won’t work in all cities as it doesn’t support digital communications. So make sure you do your research to ensure it still covers the frequencies of local emergency services in your area (many services have updated their communication system).
With that out of the way, it is a pretty functional scanner with features like the Close Call RF capture, 500 alpha-tagged channels, supporting over 40,000 frequencies covering both military and citizen bands, and convenient pre-set options for common frequencies and services.
The sound is good, the size is compact, and it’s easy to program and use.
- One of the most affordable handheld police scanners
- Functional with some advanced features and access to over 40,000 frequencies
- Easy to program and use
- Good sound and portable unit
- Doesn’t support digital communications so it may not cover your local emergency services if they have upgraded their communication systems
5. BTECH UV-5X3
This is actually a slightly different option as in it’s a handheld Ham radio than being designed as a police scanner, but it works almost just as well as one. Users mention they are easily being able to listen to the police, fire and other emergency departments in their area. And it’s priced incredibly low for this kind of functionality, which makes it the best budget option.
You must note, however, that it may not pick up the police frequencies in many states, as it doesn’t cover the 800MHz trunked system. So you will need to do some research before buying this unit.
It’s easy to program with CHIRP, the sound quality is impressive for the price, and you can also do a lot of Ham stuff with this unit so if you’re looking to buy a police scanner for a hobby, you will probably find this to be a fun option.
- A very cheap but functional option
- Covers many emergency services depending on the communication system they are using in your area
- Easy to program with the CHIRP software
- Good sound and build quality
- Doesn’t support the 800MHz trunked communication system many local police departments have upgraded to recently
Handheld Police Scanner Buyer’s Guide
First things first, a lot depends on whether you’re a cop and buying it for professional use or a Ham buying for hobby or fun. If you’re a professional, you must absolutely buy one of the digital police scanners reviewed at the top as they support advanced communication system your department may be using, in addition to all types of other emergency services. They are not a substitute for emergency radios though in case you’re wondering.
The ability to cover a wide range of frequencies and digital trunked communication system in particular is one of the most important features to look for, although if you’re on a budget and hobby user, and your local emergency services haven’t yet upgraded to digital communication systems, something cheap like the BTECH UV-5X3 may still do the trick.
The ease of programming and operation may mean a lot to many users, too, unless those that are experienced Hams and familiar with programming all types of radios, including advanced mobile Ham radios and other devices.
Some users may also want advanced features like Close Call RF capture, automatic local scanning, as well as other important features like weather alerts and NOAA updates. The weather alert feature of a police scanner may not beat a dedicated weather radio, but it would be definitely be a nice-to-have feature if you don’t own a dedicated weather radio.