Get one of these handheld police scanners to track the cops while you protest

They're talking about you, might as well listen.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Standing up for your rights is dangerous, and now that cities around the U.S. are implementing early curfews with violent enforcement, it’s useful to arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. At least here in New York City, you can actually listen to the police using a dedicated police scanner, an amateur radio, or a scanner app, though we’ll get into why you might not want to do that in a bit. Some channels are encrypted, but many are open and easy to listen to.

I’m not going to spell out why you might want to hear the police track crowd movements in real time; if you’re reading this I’m sure you already have some idea. But especially now, hearing how the police talk about the protesters is practically a civic duty. You can hear their voices drip with contempt. If you need proof that the police are a malicious institution itching to violate human and constitutional rights, you need only to tune into your radio in the evening and listen. It’s all right there.

But it’s important to understand that not everything you hear on the radio is verifiably true. During the Boston Bombing, activists tried to piece together the situation from police scanners and instead of improving the situation they muddied the waters and arguably made things worse. There’s an audio clip from a few days ago of an NYPD officer allegedly suggesting that they “run [the protesters] over,” and to “shoot those motherfuckers.”

That being said, there’s no way to know for sure where that audio actually came from. Case-in-point: activists started broadcasting Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” across Chicago police scanners just to troll. And while that is extremely illegal, with the right equipment anyone could inject false information onto police airwaves. Stay vigilant.

Before we get into the gear, there are a couple of things you should know. Police broadcast on frequencies in the UHF band. You are legally allowed to listen to unencrypted transmissions in these bands, but you need a license to broadcast. Since we’re simply arming ourselves with information, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can access these bands with more than one kind of hardware — there are police-specific scanners that pretty much only work in the UHF band, and these will probably be a bit cheaper. There’s also multi-band amateur radio receivers that cover a lot more spectrum, but will be a lot more expensive. Let’s start with some more affordable options.

Uniden Bearcat 300-Channel Scanner

Price: $78.00

Here we have a run-of-the-mill police scanner. The Uniden Bearcat can, of course, listen in on police and fire department chatter, but it also includes lower bands like citizen, 10 meter amateur, aircraft, military, and a bunch of frequencies in the VHF space. It also has some handy features like Close Call, which will automatically tune into strong nearby transmissions. It has a backlit screen, takes AA batteries, and can be had for an affordable $78.00.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP

Price: $69.89

The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is, as you can probably tell from the name, a sort of cheap Chinese radio, but it has a four-and-a-half star rating on Amazon with 5,120 reviews, so it can’t be all that bad. This radio supports the UHF hands we need as well as VHF, but because it’s a two-way radio that can transmit, you’ll need to resist the urge to respond to the police’s calls for violence. You might also need this programming cable, as the radio might not be set up for US bands and legal transmission wattages. Here’s what one reviewer said about this:

DO NOT USE THIS RADIO AS SHIPPED!!!!! These powerful and programmable radios MUST be programmed for specific channels (and reduced power!!) before use in the US. If you use these channels as provided, you will quickly find yourself at odds with the FCC and/or military - many of the frequencies that are pre-programmed land squarely in military use only ranges. Make sure that the programming cord for this radio is included, or purchase one separately. Download one of the free radio programming apps from the interwebs and look for a few programming guides - with an hour of research you too can be felony free and enjoying these inexpensive and versatile radios. Ham license operators can enjoy more of the options, but for non-license holders, you will be restricted to 1.5w transmit power on a very limited number of available frequencies if you wish to avoid costly fines.

Yaesu FT-3DR

Price: $439.99

If for whatever reason you feel like going completely nuts on amateur radio equipment, there’s the Yeasu FT-3DR. It packs a full-color screen, a rechargeable lithium ion battery, and is just cute as a button. As feature packed as the Yeasu is, it probably isn’t a good idea to take a $400 radio to a protest where everything you have could be confiscated or broken at a moment’s notice. You could probably make the same argument about a cellphone, which could be surveilled now that the DEA has been converted into Trump’s private intelligence agency, but that’s a whole other issue.

Scanner Radio [ iOS / Android ]

Price: Free with Ads / $2.99 in-app-purchase

Here we have a humble app for tuning into police radio over the internet. All things being equal, the app is pretty good aside from the obnoxious ads in the free version. You can download it and jump right into listening, but as mentioned above, if you’re physically attending a protest, bringing your phone may not be the best idea. But if you’re just looking to get a flavor for your favorite bloodthirsty police department, by all means, give this app a go. The paid version mercifully removes ads and unlocks some useful features like audio recording, which could come in handy if your public defenders decide to talk about doing some illegal stuff, like running protesters over. All in all it’s a great way to get started.

That’s it, that’s what you need to listen to the police and hold them accountable. Know your rights, and stay safe out there. This post does not use affiliate links.