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.
Always Out Front,
If you’re concerned about where we’re headed as a country, whether on the near-end of the spectrum or the far end of the spectrum (social, political and economic instability; domestic conflict; or collapse of empire), and want to stay informed on what the headlines don’t cover, then I invite you to try us out. If you’re not happy within the first two weeks, I’ll refund your monthly or annual subscription cost – no questions asked. You can get access to our intelligence reporting and training area here.
It was not directly stated but I assume when you mention being out of the area that this scanner can go in your vehicle with an DC connection to pick up transmissions while on the road. Yes/No
Great point that I forgot to mention. Yes, it will run on AA batteries but it also has a mini USB that allows it to charge.
I’m curious how effective this will be for monitoring real radio traffic for a serious event. I showed your review to a LEO friend of mine and he seems to think it would be fairly useless to monitor half of the digitally transmitted traffic because it is encrypted. His response was “You’d be just as good to get an app on your phone. I mean don’t get me wrong. In the back woods where ya wanna hear what diner the deputies are taking lunch at…its great….but most of them also run off lincs and you won’t hear that anyway. You can pick up some of our channels. They do that so you can think they’re not hiding anything. But we have to encrypt ours because we run warrant checks over the air…which include full names, birthdays and socials…as well as the obvious tactical advantage to encryption.”
So if this is the case, is there enough non-encrypted traffic to make this usable?
Correct. It will not decrypt the encrypted comms. So far, I’ve run into a few agencies in central Texas that encrypt their radio traffic, however, that’s limited to larger cities from what I’ve seen. Encrypting comms is great for them, but it comes at a steep price and technical requirements that most agencies can’t afford.
Encryption is apparently hard to do and manage, and in a big crisis supposedly gets turned off due to that difficulty.
I still used analog very effectively in Houston until recently.
I found thru listening during storms and major events that tracking dispatch is almost impossible. Managing more than 4 radios, one per agency, is also very difficult if there is traffic.
Pick an agency. Focus on them. Whether it’s your kids’ school district during the day, or the tollroad authority for the road you live near, or the constables that patrol your neighborhood, you are likely to get better specific info from a more narrowly focused agency either in terms of geography or responsibility.
The Dept of Trans will give you road blockages, power company dispatch will give lines down and service interuptions, school district busses report traffic incidents and blocked roads.
One other good potential source is the channels the tv stations use to talk to their news choppers. They chatter about what they’re seeing, what shots they’re getting, etc.
That all said, there might be good reasons for you to be monitoring the local PD tactical channels. If you can hear them, they are probably close by, and most of the time, you will be skipping right past them so they won’t clutter up your listening.
With this piece of kit, you are NOT dependent upon cell coverage…Example: i can take this device, add a vhf to so-239 adapter, run 20′ of rg8x up my tilt up mast system, connect o a wide band discone antenna, and still receive signals..cant do that with a cell phone…this should be considered just another layer of sigint, like amateur rigs,cb/analog scanner/sdrcell phone scan apps and the like….
Here in WA, there seems to be a rule (WAC?) Or maybe it’s an FCC reg that routine LE traffic not be encrypted. At least that was the story when we switched to the DHS mandated digital comms. We do have a couple of encrypted channels, but they are reserved for SWAT or other special circumstances. We also use MDC for low priority calls and”no air” messages
I have added this to my comms kit, will be testing out in a suburban setting, running feedline to discone in attic, for covert RX….Will report results when i get some actual air time, etc…
Just another layer to overall sigint…..
Great review SC…
What does Home Patrol II have that was not available in the original Home Patrol?
I believe it was the P25, but don’t hold me to it. And maybe GPS? I know they added new features to the II, but I don’t remember which ones specifically.
I have the HP 1 and it does have gps capability as well as RX P25. I think (think) the difference is cosmetic and maybe some minor changes, but as far as functionality I think they’re similar.
It has the same looks and features as the original HomePatrol 1, but adds TDMA Phase 2 capability
I just picked up the Homepatrol 2. The functionality is great, but the stock antenna leaves a bit to be desired compared to the Radio Shack PRO-106 I’ve been using. If anyone knows a good alternative let me know.
Is this scanner capable of monitoring Open Sky transmissions?