Last year, I ponied up the dough to purchase the Uniden Home Patrol II. If you want to maintain situational awareness during an SHTF scenario then you absolutely must own a police scanner, and I highly recommend the Home Patrol II.
(Editor’s note: We do link products in this article to Amazon, for which we make a small commission on sales. I would recommend the Home Patrol II regardless of where it’s purchased, and other than a small commission, I have no financial interest in Uniden. Forward Observer uses Amazon commissions to purchase new equipment to test and review for SHTF applications.)
First things first, not all police scanners are equal, so here’s what you need to know. One of the most crucial differences is between the reception of analog and digital transmissions.
Analog communications are still the most common across the US, and your analog scanner will allow you to listen into communications transmitted over analog radio systems. But because an increasing number of agencies are moving to digital systems, called P25, your old analog scanners will not pick up these new digitally encoded transmissions.
Digitally encoding voice transmissions can result in higher clarity, expanded transmission range, and greater security. The intent of switching to the P25 “trunked” systems is to increase range and interoperability among multiple agencies, which is why DHS provides grants to municipalities to upgrade to the newer technology. Having a digital system also allows agencies to not just encode, but encrypt transmissions for added security, which may also become more common. (Traveling around Texas I’ve noticed several law enforcement agencies are using encrypted systems.)
Being that the P25 digital communications will eventually become the standard among first responders, we really ought to look into getting a scanner than can receive and decode both Phase 1 and Phase 2 P25 communications. Enter the Uniden Home Patrol II.
Another notable issue is that of programming. Most other digital police scanners come with a blank slate and require the user to manually input the local frequencies, which can be frustrating if you don’t already know how (see: https://radioreference.com). If you travel to another town or county, then you’ll need to input those local frequencies as well. Uniden solves this problem by having an on-board database containing all the emergency services frequencies in the entire nation (and Canada). Once I turn on the scanner, I tell it what zip code I’m in, and it automatically loads my local frequencies. What’s especially unique is that If I’m mobile, then I can either update my local zip code (and it will pull in those new frequencies), or I can use the scanner’s built-in GPS function which will update and scan the frequencies as I travel. Pretty incredible, and that totally justifies the price tag.
Another feature that you get with the HomePatrol II is a very nice display panel (pictured above). Unlike traditional scanners which read out the frequency currently transmitting, the Home Patrol II will tell me which department and channel is in use. This comes especially in-handy when I’m listening into a report, but there’s no location being reported. The Uniden HomePatrol II will let me know which unit or precinct is transmitting. I just refer to my precinct map and I have a much better idea of where the event is.
If you live in a high radio traffic area and are only interested in specific frequencies, then there’s a great solution for that, too. With the click of a few buttons, I can tell the scanner which frequencies or transmitters should get priority over the rest (if I wanted to listen to a specific police unit, for instance). I can also ignore certain frequencies or use the Range feature to pick up transmissions within a certain radius of my current location.
Another issue that the HomePatrol II solves is that of recording the audio for playback. When we battle tracked the Ferguson riots (Operation URBAN CHARGER) in 2014, one issue we had was not being able to go back and listen to a previous transmission. Luckily, the HomePatrol II has a Playback feature, but we can also record the audio. One way is by putting a MicroSD card into the memory card slot and telling the HomePatrol II to record. We can also plug the Home Patrol into a computer and record the audio with whatever flavor of software you choose.
The only drawback is that this scanner comes in on the pricey side. As of writing this, Amazon has them listed for around $440. I was recently at the Ham Radio Outlet in Atlanta, GA, where they were listed at $479. From what I’ve seen, anything under $450 is a good price.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed is being able to listen into police radio traffic and get a sense for the operational tempo in my area. There’s the bad part of town that always has something going on; the regular domestic disputes, and the occasional Friday night drunk and disorderly. Listening into these transmissions gives me a much better picture of the security situation in my area. And in an SHTF situation, this thing is going to provide me a stream of real-time information and hopefully allow me to well-informed, time-sensitive decisions about my family’s safety and security.