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How to turn your phone or tablet into a live police and emergency scanner

Police radio communication has come a long way since the high jinks of Officers Toody and Muldoon in “Car 54, Where are You?” became a black and white TV classic. What stays the same is that you, too, can listen in on this exciting real-time communication.

In the past, listening to police and emergency services required expensive specialized radios and detailed knowledge of the radio channels used in each community. Now, like so many other things, the Internet is making a difference.

These days, you just need a smartphone and police scanner apps. With an old-fashioned radio and antenna, you were limited to hearing just the police departments nearby. By listening through a police scanner app, you can now hear police calls from around the country.

Listening to police radio chatter can be very interesting. From mundane parking violations to the heart-pounding high-speed pursuits, you never know what you might hear come over the police channels.

Before you use any of these apps, I encourage you to know your local laws regarding their use. While police scanners are legal in most states, some states restrict their use under certain conditions. If you’re in doubt about the legality of using these police scanner apps, consult with a professional lawyer.

1. 5-0 Radio Police Scanner

5-0 Radio Police Scanner is one of the most popular downloads in the App Store. It’s been in the top 100 most downloaded apps since 2009 and has more than 20 million users.

That’s because it’s loaded with emergency and ham radio feeds from around the world. You can browse by country, state or city, and save or share your favorites. This app includes a handy reference guide for police, EMS, fire and military codes.

You can also listen to these feeds no matter what gadget you are on. If you want to listen on your computer, or on your smartphone or tablet while running other apps, all you need to do is email yourself a link and voila!

This app is free and is available for Apple smartphones.

2. Scanner Radio

One of the most valuable things in an emergency is real-time information. You can plan and strategize all you want, but unless you have up-to-date information, it doesn’t do you any good. Scanner Radio can get you the real-time information you need.

Get access to live police, fire, weather and radio repeaters from around the world. You can add local stations to a favorites list and see the Top 50 list of the most-listened-to stations.

These emergency radio stations are updated every five minutes. You can also get personalized alerts when lots of people are on a station at once, indicating there might be an emergency.

This app is free and available for Apple and Android smartphones.

3. Emergency Radio

The term “Police Scanner” can sometimes be a misnomer. Most police scanner apps actually pick up a wide spectrum of police, fire, commercial and ham radio feeds.

Emergency Radio is no different. You’ll gain access to thousands of live feeds including EMS, air traffic, NOAA and more.

The list of available feeds is always growing, and you can search and save your favorites. You’ll even be able to listen in the background while running other apps.

This app costs $1 and is available for Apple smartphones.

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