They’re listening: What cops need to know about criminals on police frequencies

A sharp young officer in my state recently noticed a hand-held radio on the seat of a car he had stopped, and it seemed to be monitoring police radio traffic. The driver claimed it was a “scanner” as he handed it over, but the officer suspected otherwise. Hearing his own channel coming from the speaker, the officer pushed the “talk” button on the radio and spoke with his dispatcher — the radio was fully programmed to operate on the PD’s repeater system!

The incident was sent out on a law enforcement email net with the question: “Is this legal?”

Generally, the answer is yes. With a few exceptions, it is perfectly legal to possess such a transmitter, though illegal to actually transmit (except during a legitimate life or death emergency). After some local agencies had been experiencing unauthorized, profane radio traffic on their frequencies, they discovered a local gang had been using the Baofeng UV5R, the most common user programmable talkie on the market. They sell for about $30 on Ebay or Amazon.


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