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Posted on October 10, 2021 in Arizona Law

Are Police Scanners Legal in Arizona?

Trying to find out if police scanners are legal in Arizona? There is no state statute making the use of police scanners illegal in Arizona. Similarly, there is no federal statute banning their use. Several states have made it illegal to use police scanners, but Arizona has not. 

Municipalities may pass local ordinances prohibiting the use of police scanners, so the legality of a police scanner may vary from town to town. If you want to use a police scanner, you should check the local municipal code to make sure it is okay. Generally speaking, police scanners are legal at the state level in Arizona. 

Why Do People Use Police Scanners?

Legal uses of police scanners in Arizona can include a number of different activities. Some popular uses include:

  • News media
  • Monitoring for safety during emergencies
  • Hobbyist use
  • Public records / freedom of information

News crews often listen to police scanners to get to the scene of accidents and crimes for their broadcast. Other people may tune in to a police scanner during an emergency, such as a wildfire or flash flood, to stay safe. Hobbyists tune in simply to hear law enforcement communicate and learn about their community. 

One of the most interesting uses of police scanners is by those who monitor the channels to exercise their right to public records under freedom of information laws.

In the United States, local governments are required to make most records freely available to the public, with few exceptions. While some law enforcement agencies grumble about police scanners, they are actually a valuable source of information about law enforcement that the public is entitled to access.

Can You Get in Trouble For Using a Police Scanner in Arizona?

Even if a police scanner is legal in your town, you can still get into trouble by using one. Some of the things to avoid using a police scanner for include:

Using a police scanner in furtherance of a crime is illegal in many states, including Arizona. In Arizona, using a device that intercepts communications with the intent to commit a crime is a Class 6 felony, punishable by between four months and two years in prison. 

Using a police scanner to go to crime or accident scenes and then interfering with an investigation is a misdemeanor in Arizona. Make sure you do not use scanners to get in the way of law enforcement or first responder activity, or you could wind up in jail. 

How Do Police Scanners Work?

Police scanners are much simpler than they used to be. To listen to police communications, you used to need a large piece of radio equipment. Nowadays, police frequencies are freely available to stream on many apps and websites. This makes police scanning more readily accessible.

Sometimes, the publicly available police scanners are limited to police dispatch. You might not be able to listen to other communications, such as those between officers and patrol cars. These communications might only be accessible after the fact through public records requests (or subpoenas). However, this varies from department to department. Some have all of their channels publicly available.

When the channels are not publicly available, they are usually encrypted. You will not be able to access these at all. 

If you decide you want to use a police scanner in Arizona, that should be okay! Just check the local ordinances, and remember to avoid any illegal activity when using them. 

 

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