Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (2024)

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Whether you’re following protests or just wondering why there’s a helicopter hovering over your neighborhood, police scanner apps help you stay informed on what the cops are up to.

ByMichael Muchmore

Michael Muchmore

Lead Software Analyst

My Experience

PC hardware is nice, but it’s not much use without innovative software. I’ve been reviewing software for PCMag since 2008, and I still get a kick out of seeing what's new in video and photo editing software, and how operating systems change over time.I was privileged to byline the cover story of the last print issue of PC Magazine, the Windows 7 review, and I’ve witnessed every Microsoft win and misstep up to the latest Windows 11.

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UpdatedJune 4, 2020

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Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (2)

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(Image: Elena Rostunova on Shutterstock)

During the recent George Floyd protests, police scanner app downloads have skyrocketed. If you're hoping to avoid a confrontation with local law enforcement while peacefully protesting or you just want to know what's going on in your area—what's that siren for? Why is there a police helicopter hovering over my neighborhood?—A police scanner app can help out. As an added perk, most of these mobile apps can play fire department and weather radio, too.

These radio-scanning apps save you from buying a pricey hardware scanner: You can simply install an iPhone app or Android app on your smartphone. Both app stores are well stocked with options. Some are free, but there are features in some that make them worth paying for—the last thing you want is a video ad right when you're trying to get crucial info. If you just want to sit at home or in a café and watch police activity, there are several scanner apps available on the app stores for macOS and Windows. You could also simply point your web browser to Broadcastify, which is the feed source for many of these apps.

Police scanner apps simply play for you what departments have made publicly available, so there's usually no legal risks in using them—unless you're committing a crime while doing so, in which case it could add to the offenses you're charged with, depending on the state. In some states it's also illegal to use them while driving, and Indiana has particularly rigid laws on their use.

If you're reading this story because you or someone you know is going to a demonstration, you (or they) should definitely read our story How to Lock Down Your Phone for a Protest. If you're not going out but still want to do your part, you could read How to Support Protesters From Home.

Police Scanner: Best for Clear Interface and Walkie-Talkie Feature

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (3)

Police Scanner, Fire Radio

$0.00 at Apple App StoreSee It

This unimaginatively but aptly named app comes with a high recommendation—from a retired NYPD sergeant who is an acquaintance of the writer. When you first run the app, it takes you through a short tour of its capabilities. Even the free app has an attractive dark mode, and you can browse nearby and popular police radio channels, designate favorites, and see alerts from around the country.

If you want to listen to police communications before you sleep, the app includes a timer similar to that in TuneIn Radio. It's 10- code page lets you filter by department and category, so it's better than a list that may or may not apply to the area you're listening to. The map feature just shows a pinpoint in the general area of the precinct you're listening to.

One unique feature in the Police Scanner app is walkie-talkie. No, it doesn’t let you join in on the police's radio conversation; it just lets you leave short voice messages in the channel for other users of the app. You may hear some salty language, so be warned!

Police Scanner Pro is one of the more pricy apps in its group. You have a choice of paying $2.99 per week, $9.99 per month, or $39.99 per year.

Platforms: iOS, Android

5-0 Radio Police Scanner: Best for Low-Cost Pro Version

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (4)

5-0 Radio Police Scanner

$0.00 at Apple App StoreSee It

The Pro version of this app was the top paid download in the Apple App Store on June 1 (Police scanner app catapults to the top of the App Store), and it has a user rating of 4.6 in the store, both of which are no small feats. The app’s starting interface is quite basic, just a text list of top, local, and other feeds. Like the other apps here, it can show you a map of the region you're listening to, but it was zoomed out to the country level for NYPD—not especially informative. It also lets you designate favorites and can show police 10- codes. The app also can play HD music streams from internet radio stations around the world. Unfortunately, the free version has no search feature.

The paid version is cheaper than most, at just a $4.99 one-time fee. It removes ads, adds more feeds (according to the company, though users say it’s the same in the comments), and lets you record and share transmissions. It also adds a timer, siren noisemaker, and custom backgrounds. Another potential benefit of buying the app is that its developer has stated that the company will donate proceeds to anti-racist organizations.

Platforms: iOS, Windows

Police Scanner Radio & Fire: Best for Customizable Interface

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (5)

Police Scanner Radio & Fire

$0.00 at Apple App StoreSee It

This attractive and functional orange-toned app offers all of its radio listening free, but paying $2.99 per month for the Pro version removes ads, lets you apply themes and dark mode, and gets you widget functionality. You can sort channels by listener popularity or nearness, or filter by genre, area, source, and newest. The app lets you designate favorites for quick access. There’s a News tab, and the app can send you news alerts, but they're not filtered by area, which means they come from all over the country. It would be more useful if you could set some criteria for your news view. Speaking of Alerts, you can also set these up for events from individual, nearby, or favorited scanners, or for when a specified number of users are listening to a channel. Police Scanner Radio & Fire also has a page of police 10- codes, but its map feature just shows the area covered by the department you're listening to.

Platforms: iOS, Android

Police Scanner+: Best for Cool Interface, Recording, and Internet Radio

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (6)

Police Scanner +

$0.00 at Apple App StoreSee It

There are multiple apps in the store sharing this name: The one we’re talking about is by Rego Apps and has the most high ratings in the store, with over 49 thousand and an average of 4.6. The app not only lets you search for scanners around the world and find local ones, but also lets you see Broadcastify events, play internet music radio, and record anything you’re listening to—even in the free app. You can fave streams and set a shutdown timer. If you know the URL of a broadcast, you can enter it manually. The app has one of the more appealing interfaces among the genre, with a big Stop button in the middle surrounded by other options. You can customize the nifty space-themed background with your own picture. The paid Pro version costs $4.99 one time; it removes ads, adds weather and railroad feeds, adds background choices, and lets you access archived recordings. On the downside, the app has no search feature.

Platforms: iOS

Citizen: Best for Staying Informed on Emergencies and Reporting

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (7)

Citizen: Connect and Stay Safe

$0.00 at Apple App StoreSee It

While not technically a police radio scanner app, Citizen is such a terrific source of info on nearby police and emergency activity that we felt it worthy of inclusion. Not only does it show you what’s going on nearby (or in other covered areas), but it lets you report incidents as well. The app is free and covers most major cities, and the company is working on expanding coverage. Citizen alerts you of any activity in the areas you’re following (you can set it to only do so for major events) and includes video of events where available.

Platforms: Android, iOS, web

More Ways to Stay Safe

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (8)

Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (9) It's Surprisingly Easy to Be More Secure Online

Besides using police-scanning apps, there are other ways to keep yourself (and others) safe during protests. You should keep these privacy tactics in mind when supporting the cause from your home as well, especially in your communications. Read our additional coverage for more information:

  • How to Lock Down Your Phone For a Protest

  • How to Support Protesters From Home

  • 14 Essential Apps for Protecting Your Privacy Online

  • Signal Adds Face-Blurring Tool

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About Michael Muchmore

Lead Software Analyst

PC hardware is nice, but it’s not much use without innovative software. I’ve been reviewing software for PCMag since 2008, and I still get a kick out of seeing what's new in video and photo editing software, and how operating systems change over time.I was privileged to byline the cover story of the last print issue of PC Magazine, the Windows 7 review, and I’ve witnessed every Microsoft win and misstep up to the latest Windows 11.

Prior to my current role, I covered software and apps for ExtremeTech, and before that I headed up PCMag’s enterprise software team, but I’m happy to be back in the more accessible realm of consumer software. I’ve attended trade shows of Microsoft, Google, and Apple and written about all of them and their products.

I’m an avid bird photographer and traveler—I’ve been to 40 countries, many with great birds! Because I’m also a classical fan and former performer, I’ve reviewed streaming services that emphasize classical music.

Read Michael's full bio

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Keep an Eye on the Cops: The Best Police Scanner Apps (2024)

FAQs

Are there any police scanner apps that actually work? ›

Scanner Radio is one of the best police scanner apps on Android and iOS. The app covers live audio feeds from more than 7,000 fire department and police scanners, weather radio stations, ham radio repeaters, marine radios, and air traffic.

How accurate are police scanner apps? ›

You're probably not hearing everything, and you're probably not hearing it in real time. The web-based scanner apps often blend multiple radio frequencies together so there is more traffic to listen to. Most public safety communications are trunked, where traffic is carried over multiple radio channels.

Why can't I listen to my local police scanner? ›

Know that some police radio transmissions are encrypted.

Many major cities in the US and UK now encrypt all police radio activity, so you might not be able to hear police radio in some places.

Do police scanners really work? ›

Police scanners help monitor the radio frequencies used by local police departments and allow you to listen to their internal communications. It's totally legal, and a great way to understand how first responders in your area are promoting public safety and dealing with major events or breaking news on a daily basis.

Do police radar apps work? ›

Phones do not detect police radar or laser and no app will change that. Only a dedicated radar detector (Escort for example) can do that. And nothing can detect a police car. It's just another car.

In what states is it illegal to have a police scanner? ›

States That Restrict Police Scanner Use While Driving
  • Florida.
  • Indiana.
  • Kentucky.
  • New York.
  • Minnesota.

Can you listen to a police scanner on your iPhone? ›

Download Police Scanner App and be the first to know about public safety, breaking news, fire alarms, and crime waves near you.

What is the live local police scanner app? ›

Top 7 Police Scanner Apps
  • Scanner Radio - Police Scanner. GordonEdwards.net LLC News. ...
  • Police Scanner - Live Scanner. Fucidin News. ...
  • Police Scanner X. BEROBO (Police Scanner Radio) News. ...
  • Police Scanner 5.0. ...
  • Police Scanner Live. ...
  • Broadcastify Police Scanner. ...
  • Police Scanner Radio LIVE.

Why do police scanners go silent? ›

American cities are encrypting their emergency radio communications over concerns about safety and privacy.

Can Baofeng pick up police? ›

No, Baofeng radios are not police scanners.

What is the best real police scanner app? ›

The best police scanner apps for Android
  • Broadcastify.
  • Police Scanner.
  • Police Scanner X.
  • Scanner 911.
  • Scanner Radio.
Mar 21, 2024

What does trunking mean on a police scanner? ›

Trunked Radio Systems in Depth. Trunked radio systems centrally manage a pool of channels, and intelligently switch users to whatever channel is open at a given time. This is often a difficult concept for scanner enthusiasts to understand, as trunking represents a paradigm shift in design of the system.

Which is better, an analog or digital police scanner? ›

Reasons for municipalities switching to digital systems is because of clearer sound and a greater range of reception. Analog scanners provide voice from Analog signals.

Is there an app that tracks where cops are? ›

The iRadar App

Instant red light and speed camera as well as live law enforcement detection notifications ensure you can drive smarter and safer. With iRadar, you'll also know about accidents, work zones, road hazards, and be notified over the speed limit alerts.

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