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Ask the Chief: Follow the rules involving police scanners

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

"Ask The Chief" allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

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Q: I always see police scanners on Amazon for your house. I also see police scanner apps on the App Store are these legal to use?

A: Yes, using a scanner or scanner app on your smartphone for the purpose of simply listening to and not communicating with/or interfering with first responders is legal.

However, you are not allowed to use the app while operating a motor vehicle or to advance a crime. For example, John Doe enters a store intending to rob the cashier, meanwhile, Jane Doe waits in the car listening to the police channel on the scanner app, with the intent to use the information to avoid arrest.

Minnesota Statute 299C.37 states, "No person other than peace officers within the state, the members of the State Patrol, and persons who hold an amateur radio license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, shall equip any motor vehicle with any radio equipment or combination of equipment, capable of receiving any radio signal, message, or information from any police emergency frequency, or install, use, or possess the equipment in a motor vehicle.

Minnesota Statute 609.856 states: "Whoever has in possession or uses a radio or device capable of receiving or transmitting a police radio signal, message, or transmission of information used for law enforcement purposes, while in the commission of a felony ... or the attempt to commit a felony ... is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than three years or to payment of a fine of not more than $5,000, or both."

Airwaves in the U.S. are public property and information sent over them does not presume privacy which was established in the 1934 Communications Act. The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from authorizing radio scanning equipment that:

• Can receive transmissions in the frequencies allocated to domestic cellular services.

• Can readily be altered by the user to intercept cellular communications.

• May be modified to convert digital transmissions to analog voice audio.

It is illegal to manufacture, import, sell or lease such unauthorized equipment in the United States.


1. Minnesota Statute 299C.37, Police Communications Equipment; Use; Sale. Located online:

2. Minnesota Statute 609.856, Use of Police Radios During Commission of Crime; Penalties. Located online at:

3. Federal Communications Commission, Interception and Divulgence of Radio Communications. Located online at: