Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Information Do You Get From a Police Scanner?

What Information Do You Get From a Police Scanner?
Almost all of us have come across it at some point of time or the other, either in real life when we hear it squawking in squad cars and on cops walking past us, or in fictional situations like on television and the movies. But how many of us know what a police scanner really does and why it forms such an integral part of every cop’s arsenal? We hear what seems like a string of gibberish, numbers mostly followed by locations, after which the cops are burning their tires to get to where they have to be to deal with the emergency at hand.

A scanner is a communication tool that automatically scans various frequencies and stops when it finds activity on one. It moves on to the next frequency when the current scanners are in general use to supplement the two-way radio systems that the police department, firefighters, and others in law enforcement use to communicate between themselves. They’re also used by the news media to get tips on breaking news, and by radio aficionados who love monitoring different frequencies just for the fun and challenge of it.

The information received from a police scanner is related to (but not limited to):
  • Alerts on ongoing crimes from police dispatchers to the officers in squad cars nearest to the locality of the crime or accident. The information is coded according to police terminology where each crime is referred to by a particular code.
  • Critical communication between officers at a crime scene and those back in headquarters.
  • Communication between police officers on civil unrest and unexpected traffic jams.
    Information about fires in the vicinity – the police are dispatched to see if they can be of help in rescuing people or managing traffic and crowds in the area.
  • News of the weather in your locality, especially in extreme climate conditions like a blizzard, snowstorm, hurricane or tornado.
  • Information is also passed on to EMTs or emergency medical technicians (or paramedics) so that they can provide immediate first aid to those injured in either a crime or an accident.

In general, it is illegal to use scanners to listen in on cordless and cellular calls or modify a scanner to enable it to do so. It is also illegal to use the information received from a scanner to aid and abet or perpetrate any criminal activity. Even though it is used mostly by people in law enforcement and journalism, there are rampant instances of malpractice because it’s easy to find frequencies on the Internet and tap into them for illegal reasons. Police scanners provide a host of information, but if we use it for the wrong reasons, there is a high price to pay.


This guest post is contributed by Brooklyn White, who writes on the topic of
Forensic Science Technician Programs. She can be reached at

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