For many people, listening in on a police scanner — the radio system used by local police to communicate — isn’t just entertainment. It is a way to stay informed about what is going on in their communities.
In the United States, it is generally legal to own a police scanner. However, there are a few states where there are limits on the use of scanners — and the Commonwealth of Kentucky is one such state.
In Kentucky, the legislature has enacted a law that prohibits the use of radios that are capable or sending or receiving police messages. This law forbids the use of a specific type of radio (more commonly known as police scanners) in the cars of individuals. There are a number of exceptions to this law, including for law enforcement officers and firefighters.
As a skilled Lexington criminal defense attorney can explain, if you are interested in owning and listening to a police scanner, you can still do so — as long as you listen from the comfort of your own home. Otherwise, you risk a Kentucky misdemeanor offense and the confiscation of your equipment.
Restrictions on the Use of Police Scanners
Under Kentucky law, it is illegal to possess a police scanner inside of a vehicle, or to otherwise install it inside of a vehicle. In other words, if you have a police radio or scanner inside of your vehicle — no matter if you are carrying it, holding it, or have it mounted to your dash — you could be charged with a crime.
Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 432.570, Restrictions on Possession or Use of Radio Capable of Sending or Receiving Police Messages, provides that it is unlawful for any person to have a police scanner, unless he or she is a member of the police department, authorized by a police department, or is an employee of the Department of Corrections using an authorized, state-issued portable radio in their vehicle.
The law also prohibits interfering with the transmission of radio messages by any police of peace officers. Under KRS 432.570, police scanners can only be installed in vehicles owned or operated by the state. An officer cannot install a scanner in his or her personal car.
If you violate this law, you could be charged with a misdemeanor offense. This crime is punishable by a fine of between $50 and $500, and/or up to one year in jail. Any scanners or other equipment used in violation of the law will be seized and destroyed by the state.
When Can You Use a Police Scanner in Kentucky?
While Kentucky does prohibit the use of police scanners in vehicles, citizens of Kentucky can otherwise use scanners in their homes and other locations. As long as the scanner can only receive messages — and cannot transmit messages — a person can freely use such a device, with one significant exception. If a person uses a scanner to facilitate a crime or to avoid apprehension by law enforcement, then it is a violation of the law, and will result in criminal charges and seizure of the equipment.
Other individuals may own and use police scanners or radios capable of transmitting signals within the wavelength used by police, including for their businesses. This may include:
- Retailers who offer police scanners for sale or resale;
- Radio or television stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission;
- Licensed commercial auto towing trucks;
- Newspaper reporters and photographers;
- Emergency management agency personnel authored in writing by the director of the division of emergency management or chief executive of the city of county;
- A person holding a valid license issued by the Federal Communications Commission in the amateur radio service (ham radio);
- Peace officers authorized in writing by the head of their law enforcement agency; and
- Prosecutors and their assistants.
In addition, paid and volunteer firefighters are permitted to use police scanners both inside and outside of their vehicles, provided that they have been given permission by both the chief of the fire department and of each law enforcement agency whose frequency is to be monitored. In addition, the state may exempt the use of radio equipment to be used for weather radio systems.
In the era of the smartphone, a new issue may arise in Kentucky: the use of police scanner apps. KRS 432.570 specifically addresses radios that operate in a manner that are similar to those used by police officers. It does not forbid the use of apps that encode transmissions from police scanners via the internet.
The legality of these apps is currently unknown in Kentucky. While there may be an argument that it is lawful to use them in your vehicle, it is likely a violation of the law to use a police scanner app to facilitate a crime or to avoid apprehension by law enforcement.
Work with a Lexington Criminal Defense Attorney
While the laws regarding police scanners in Kentucky may seem arcane, they can have very real consequences if you are caught using a radio to monitor police activity, transmit messages, or interfere with police communications. A misdemeanor conviction can have a serious impact on your life, making it critical to hire a Lexington criminal defense attorney to advocate for your interests.
The Baldani Law Group represents clients throughout Kentucky. We strongly believe that each of our clients is entitled to a zealous defense, and work hard to obtain the best possible outcome. Contact us today by phone at 859-259-0727 or online to schedule a consultation with a Lexington criminal defense attorney.