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Keep your ear to the streets with the best police scanner apps

A pop, then a crackle. “11-06?” a woman asks through the static. A man replies, describing a man in a North Face jacket. Some garbled chatter and another woman joins in, relaying a witness’s account of a hooded man trying to break into a closed school. The dialogue unfolding seems like the chatter found in a cop show, but it is actually happening, traveling from a radio in Chicago to a pair of headphones on the West Coast. Police scanners have long been a tool for journalists and curious hobbyists to listen in to the daily work of police officers. In the past, they required the appropriate radio setup; today, all one needs is a smartphone.

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Although some police departments have moved away from radio broadcasts, plenty still use classic, eavesdrop-worthy communications. There are numerous apps on the market today that allow anyone with a smartphone to listen to police communications not only nearby, but anywhere. Below are a few of our personal favorites, so you can tune in to all the happenings in law enforcement, whether in your hometown or elsewhere. Just don’t expect the utmost quality when it comes to design.

Scanner Radio

Probably the best police scanner app available, Scanner Radio, allows users to browse a variety of channels worldwide, including Broadcastify’s archives. Streaming quality seems variable; channels in the New York area frequently dropped, while those from Chicago seemed stable. The app also happens to break down codes and jargon for various departments, and unlike many of the free scanners on the market, it sports a clean and stylish interface. The only knock against it is the presence of semi-frequent ads.

Download now from:

Google iTunes

Broadcastify

Broadcastify offers a huge number of global channels for users to listen to, each sorted by country and metro area. The app’s UI is clean and easy-to-read, although the media player is ugly, with bulky buttons. Channels tend to be stable, including those that focus on fire and EMS services, and users can even search for channels near their location. The free version of Broadcastify includes ads, but they’re not too obtrusive. Nonetheless, the paid version ($2) removes the ads entirely.

Download now from:

Google iTunes

Police Scanner 5-0

Police Scanner 5-0 won’t win any beauty contests, but it is a functional app that offers a variety of channels, both local and otherwise. The app also includes a host of information regarding police codes, and the accompanying streams are quick to load and rarely cut out. The biggest drawback for Police Scanner 5-0, however, is its appearance. The buttons are overly large, and while the coloring and fonts are fine, the frequent ads and upgrade offers strewn throughout the free version of the app can be off-putting. If functionality is all you care about, though, this app will suffice.

Download now from:

Google

Scanner 911

Scanner 911 has a clean, professional look that makes it easy to navigate. Sound quality is generally good, and if problems arise, the app also features numerous options to adjust the audio settings. Although Scanner 911 has ads, it wisely keeps them small, preserving its minimalist design. Really, the only problem with Scanner 911 is that it only seems to lack the wide net of channels that Broadcastify casts.

Download now from:

Google