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If you own a smartphone you basically own a police scanner too. With a simple download of a police scanner app like iScanner, PoliceStream, and 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, any average Joe can turn his phone into a police radio.
But while it may be cool to listen to police movements and track crime, you may be breaking the law simply by listening.
So when is it legal to download one of these police scanner apps?
Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends." Each state has different rules on police scanning devices, so you'll have to read up on the laws of your state to be absolutely sure.
Still, just about every state makes it legal to own a police scanner radio. So you may be allowed to legally listen in on the police. The catch is that it may be illegal when you take the police scanner out of your home, such as when you turn your smartphone into a police radio.
States like Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York make it illegal to use a mobile police scanner without a license from the Federal Communications Commission or permission from local law enforcement, reports NBC. Though there may so many exceptions and conditions to these rules, that you'll need a lawyer just to figure out what's allowed.
Other states like California, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia allow mobile scanners, but make it illegal to use them in the commission of a crime. Some states simply have no rules regarding the use of police scanners.
Lawmakers probably didn't envision a day when anyone could simply download a police scanner app and turn their phone into a viable police radio. So while you can download these apps, you'll probably want to exercise caution if using it in your car.