These scanners are career savers for multimedia journalists trying to cover the scene alone. You can also tune in and listen to the scanner in the background, so you can keep both hands on the wheel while you’re en route. That’s exactly what Hayden Mitman did on his way to breaking news. He’s managing editor of the Star Newspapers in Philadelphia, and we reached out to him to share a police scanner app success story, featured in our In The Field section.
There are dozens of these apps ranging in cost from free to $4.99. With so many free options, it’s hard to justify spending money on static and beeping. We show you three of the best free iPhone police scanner apps.
Once you download the app, make sure it includes the area you’re covering. Many apps include a Pro version with a wider selection.
Journalist Apps tried out the highest-rated police scanner apps. Many seemed to be carbon copies of each other. Others were limited unless the user bought the pro version. After combing through them all, Journalist Apps narrowed down the field to three free apps.
Free for iPhone
TOP 3 FREE APPS
Cop Radio for iPhone & iPad
Cop Radio App Details from iTunes
You can do more than just listen to police scanners with this app. You can also browse radio stations. But you’re a journalist and you can’t wait to hear static, followed by some beeping, and then that critical information you were waiting for. Easily select a scanner by picking a country, state, county, etc. At first glance, this app seems confusing. But after you click on a few of the icons, it becomes self-explanatory. In addition to listening to the police scanner, you can activate the light on your phone as a flashlight, record what you hear, favorite a channel, and listen to the app in the background while you work in other apps.
Emergency Radio Free
Emergency Radio Free App Details from iTunes
This app gets right to the point. Pick the police scanner you want to listen to from a list. Start with country, then state, then county. There are several different types of emergency scanners available including police, fire, airports, and weather radios. Once you choose your scanner, you can toggle back and forth between emergency code information and a map showing you the location. This comes in handy if the dispatcher is using 10-codes (many still do), or the unusual 11-26 (in which case you’ll be glad you knew it was an abandoned bicycle and you didn’t have to drive 50 miles to check it out.) There are also icons to let you know if the station is “online.”
5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite
5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite App Details from iTunes
Once you choose which scanner you want to listen to, take a look at the menu bar (located under the volume bar). Besides listening to the police scanner, you can look how close (or far) you are from the scanner’s location. In the “map” feature, you’ll see a blue dot with your GPS location. You’ll also see a red pushpin indicating the location of the scanner you’re listening to. This comes in handy if you’re wondering why you can’t seem to find that bizarre crime scene you heard about. You can also hit the “more” button and see a list of local codes, mainly 10-codes.* This app also encourages you to chat with other listeners via Twitter.
“As a reporter in Philadelphia, the [5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite] app allows me to follow police, fire and emergency responder team activity, while being able to isolate bands to specific police districts if need be. Last time this came in handy, I saw smoke in the air above the Kensington neighborhood. By simply turning to the app, I not only knew immediately that is was from a nearby fire, but I learned exact location of the warehouse fire and which fire engine companies were en route (this was helpful to my eventual story as the city had recently cut fire budgets, closing several fire companies at the time). As I headed to cover the fire, still listening to the radio broadcast on the app, I listened to firefighters discuss their thoughts on what could have caused the blaze. While none of this was official, it gave me a great place to start questioning. By the time I was able to start interviewing fire officials – once the fire was under control – I had questions prepared.” –Hayden Mitman, managing editor of the Star newspapers, a chain of weekly papers in Philadelphia