San Francisco Scanning Rules & Possesion

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kandrey89

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Are there any rules I should be aware of when owning a scanner in San Francisco, Bay Area, and also California in general, highways etc?

Is carrying a concealed scanner illegal? LOL, but seriously...
What about concealed on a MUNI bus? in public transit.

Is having a scanner in a car illegal? Turned on or otherwise.

What would you do if a Police or Peace Officer stops you in the middle of a stream after noticing you might have a scanner, what would you say or do? I believe having a scanner on persons isn't illegal, but then you know there's always a chance that you might catch the interest of some curious cop that wouldn't take that "right" seriously.

What things are illegal when it comes to when owning a scanner, aside from simple stuff like having an unblocked scanner, or relaying police movements to protesters for evasion (read it from the newspaper, hehe).

Just in case, I am a beginner, but I've set my eye for a BCD396XT or a BCD996XT, I think I'll do good with a portable one since it's portable, seeing as how I've had possession of ICOM PCR2500 for a brief while and although I marveled the ability to connect it to my computer and control it that way, I'm afraid the non-portability frightens me. Seeing as how I'd like to use it in my car, and on public transportation and just generally on a walk.
 

trooperdude

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Good overview here:
index

Although it's mostly focused on Los Angeles, the CA statewide laws apply.

Asking for legal advice on the internet is worth exactly what you pay for it :D

Do some googling on scanner law for both California and San Francisco specific.
 

kandrey89

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What da... ZOMG, LA sucks...

Can't use scanners in your vehicle :S pshhh.

There doesn't appear to be any laws in San Francisco specifically :)
And those laws you pointed to I knew from the movies ;) kind of obvious too. I was wondering if there'd be something else, but ok.

So anyone get pulled over and get grilled by a Police Officer regarding their scanner? What did you say and what happened?
 

inigo88

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What would you do if a Police or Peace Officer stops you in the middle of a stream after noticing you might have a scanner, what would you say or do?
Officer: "Hey, what are you doing out here in this stream? Isn't that water cold? Why do you have a radio scanner?"

You: "Uhhhh...."

In all seriousness, don't use it in the commission of a crime or to assist the commission of a crime, to further your monetary gain in personal employment and use common sense. Know when to NOT disclose what you hear on the internet.

Beyond that there are no state laws outright banning the use of scanners like elsewhere in the US - at least that I am aware of, and I am not a lawyer and you get what you pay for. ;)

Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why you want it. That should be your truthful answer if you attract the attention of a law enforcement officer.

Inigo
 

franks_ham

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To add to what Inigo has said, I live in the same county as him and only once had a problem. I'm shocked that officer made it from the Academy, straight Nazi he was...But I digress...

I've carried my scanner(s) with me for years in and around the S.F. Bay and have yet to have *any* problems. I just keep a pair of iPod earphones with a stereo to mono adapter on them lying around for the times I go into Starbucks or Safeway so that I can still listen to what's going on without it blaring in the whole store.

Regards,

-Frank C.
 

SCPD

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The unwritten rule for the hobby is to not draw attention to your use of the radio. Ear phones and keeping it out of sight are good ideas. This rule is not just relative to law enforcement, more importantly it is courteous public behavior.

There are times when I put a ham radio handheld on the table when I'm in a restaurant. If it is one of the latest models I have people don't even glance at it as long as they can't hear it. It looks somewhat like a large cell phone with a large antenna, although it is smaller than almost every handheld scanner. If I'm carrying the radio I use for my volunteer activities for the town I live in, an older model public safety radio modified to include one ham band, it occasionally gets some stares, mostly from kids who stare at everything anyway. I don't leave it turned up or on active frequencies as that would be annoying for others and that is the key.
 

SCPD

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As for the laws in the L.A. area laws cited by the Monitoring Times, the lead in discussion is overblown. I don't think there are very many people, including law enforcement and fire department personnel, that know about these laws. They are so old they don't even cover the UHF and 700/800 MHz bands. The L.A. City Fire Department, on their own website, publishes the radio frequencies they use. There are probably more scanners mounted in vehicles and carried by people in the L.A. area than anywhere else in the country.

Another key behavior is to turn off the scanner, even if you are using ear phones, if you are approached by law enforcement. Even if the scanner is being used legally, it is best to avoid drawing any attention to it. DO NOT use the scanner to find incidents you would like to watch, rather use the scanner to avoid being near those incidents. Public safety already has more looky lous than they need.

If you keep this all in mind you should not have any problems. If you are acting suspicious then the scanner could be a topic of conversation. Some folks carry red flags around with the words "probable cause" written all over them. Such things as cracked windshields, window tinting not in compliance with the vehicle code, too many stickers in windows, burned out lights, lack of a front license plate, license plates obscured by dirt, mud, and snow, etc., combined with other behaviors that don't seem quite right often lead to a law enforcement contact.

Bottom line, keep your nose clean and your attitude in the right place and the probability of a problem with a scanner is very low.

Disclaimer: like everything else in life there are no 100% guarantees. A meteorite could strike your car this afternoon, so no guarantee, implied or expressed, is contained herein.

*EDIT* The example of Jack Garritson the Monitoring Times used is a poor one in this context. Our buddy Jack was transmitting on every frequency he could get equipment for. He had a long standing habit of causing malicious harmful interference by transmitting on ham radio, including a wide area ham network that I often use. He was transmitting on law enforcement frequencies as well. He was transmitting and that is what he was convicted for. Relating this example to scanners is poor journalism, just like the hyped introductory statements.
 
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cousinkix1953

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Don't be taking pictures of your family on a state beach or park either. The brown shirts on 800 mhz are harassing people with decent cameras, accusing them of crass commercialism and demanding that they pay $$$ for a special permit. This is yet another obscure law that is selectively enforced by those rangers around Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

The real police "CHP, sheriff, city etc.) are too busy busting real criminals instead of harassing the tourists.
 

KMA367

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So anyone get pulled over
Yes, many times.
...and get grilled by a Police Officer regarding their scanner?
Never.


As for the laws in the L.A. area laws cited by the Monitoring Times, the lead in discussion is overblown. I don't think there are very many people, including law enforcement and fire department personnel, that know about these laws... There are probably more scanners mounted in vehicles and carried by people in the L.A. area than anywhere else in the country.
And that included my cars and motorcycles when I lived and drove in L.A. from 1965-1987.

As I've mentioned here before, I've had under-dash monitors and then scanners mounted IN PLAIN SIGHT in most every vehicle I've owned for the past 44 years. I get traffic-stopped with probably "typical" frequency, maybe once every five or six years, usually for legitimate screw-ups I've committed. In all that time only twice has the officer even mentioned the scanner, and even then only in a "by the way" conversational tone of voice. I do try to unobtrusively turn it off as soon as I sense that I may be about to be nailed... don't need to have an officer hearing his own calls coming from MY car!

One stop was by a LA County Deputy Sheriff, who are not generally known for their flexibility, at the extreme south end of Crenshaw in what's now their Lomita station area, and the other was by a Trinity River CHP officer, who are also all-business and are said to be prone to even cite their grandmothers if they get half a chance.

In both instances they asked "Is that a scanner?" "Yes, sir, it is." The deputy also asked "Are you listening to us?" to which I replied, "No, I mostly listen to LAPD, the fire department, and trains. I hardly ever listen to you guys, those 'busy beeps' of yours drive me nuts." He tried to suppress a giggle, wrote me a well-deserved stop-sign ticket, and that was that. (LASO doesn't generally use repeater mode, but rather it transmits a marker tone every couple seconds whenever a mobile is transmitting). The CHP guy asked me, "is that a ham rig or a scanner?" I told him, "It's a ham radio but I scan with it too" to which he answered, "Yea, I noticed the dualband antenna on your trunk." He then politely scratched me out a cite for expired tags. It seems to me we also exchanged ham call signs, but that might have been another occasion.

EDIT:
And after two incidents when I was much younger, I've never since identified myself as a (then-current or now-retired) police employee. In two speeding-ticket stops, one by South Pasadena PD and one by CHP, I ID'd myself as a dispatcher for LAPD. Big mistake. Both of them really read me the riot act about "Of all people, YOU should know better..." SPPD wrote me the ticket, but the CHP ofcr finally chilled and let me go after first giving me the option of "Do you want a ticket, or would you rather I have my commanding officer send your commanding officer a letter and let LAPD handle it?" I later realized he was BSing me, but he had caught me going 85 or something on I-5 back when that wasn't the norm thru the San Joaquin Valley. Geez, I had a lead foot when I was young.


Back to the widely-maligned, but even more widely unenforced L.A. City ordinance. About a year ago I discovered the case of two brothers, Roy and Henry Hastings, who were arrested on June 17 1957 for "responding" to a LAPD traffic accident radio call at Topanga Canyon and Saticoy. When they went to trial, after the prosecutor put on his case, Hizzoner Judge Harold Shepherd interrupted the defense attorney and told him not to even bother starting his defense as he (the judge) felt that LAMC 52.44 was unconstitutional, saying,
"I fail to see how the authorities - City Council, State Legislature or Federal government can tell you what to listen to and what not to listen to when it is broadcast over the air. Nobody can tell you that you can't listen to something per se; the mere listening is not a crime.

"The code says you cannot listen through a car radio to a police broadcast. They want to prevent people from cluttering up the scene of an accident. But I don't think this law covers it.

"They'll have to tie something to it, such as making it illeal to do something pursuant to a police broadcast." (LA Times, 8/29/1957)​

The charges were dropped and the case was never "published" - meaning it can't be used as precedent or cited or relied on by other courts or parties.

The Hastings brothers went on their way, and Judge Shepherd eventually wound up in Superior Court, where he presided over the retrial and second conviction of "Onion Field" murderer Jimmy Lee Smith. And I either got or didn't get my tickets each time, regardless of the scanners.

The Hastings brothers incident is the only specific instance I've heard of that LAPD's ever arrested or cited anyone for it, other than occasionally tacking it on to "bandit" tow-truck driver arrests or, back in the 1930s, ambulance-chasing attorneys.

*EDIT* The example of Jack Garritson the Monitoring Times used is a poor one in this context. Our buddy Jack was transmitting on every frequency he could get equipment for. He had a long standing habit of causing malicious harmful interference by transmitting on ham radio, including a wide area ham network that I often use. He was transmitting on law enforcement frequencies as well. He was transmitting and that is what he was convicted for. Relating this example to scanners is poor journalism, just like the hyped introductory statements.
Absolutely. And old (he's 73 now) Jack is still cooling his heels inside Terminal Island Prison, and will be for another two years: Federal Bureau of Prisons

The unwritten rule for the hobby is to not draw attention to your use of the radio.
That really is the bottom line, at least in California. Scanners just aren't a big deal with >99% of the cops as long as you ain't misbehavin'
 
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kma371

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Don't be taking pictures of your family on a state beach or park either. The brown shirts on 800 mhz are harassing people with decent cameras, accusing them of crass commercialism and demanding that they pay $$$ for a special permit. This is yet another obscure law that is selectively enforced by those rangers around Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

The real police "CHP, sheriff, city etc.) are too busy busting real criminals instead of harassing the tourists.
Your rant is not necessary. Stick to the topic.
 

cousinkix1953

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Los Angeles is a special case. The rest of California is governed by federal and state-wide laws regarding police scanners, as far as I know. And some common sense!

The laws were adequate enough to deal with a nutcase, who chased police and fire calls in my area during the 70s. Snoopy would show up in his white Ford Bronco sporting an illegal siren, red light bar, police scanner and a CB radio. And he'd get in the way by trying to direct traffic or something of the sort. A judge eventually took away his toys and put him on notice...
 

Eng74

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Los Angeles is a special case. The rest of California is governed by federal and state-wide laws regarding police scanners, as far as I know. And some common sense!

The laws were adequate enough to deal with a nutcase, who chased police and fire calls in my area during the 70s. Snoopy would show up in his white Ford Bronco sporting an illegal siren, red light bar, police scanner and a CB radio. And he'd get in the way by trying to direct traffic or something of the sort. A judge eventually took away his toys and put him on notice...
That covers almost every Battalion Chief then. Well their siren and light bar are not illegal but you get the picture.

I have never had a problem and I go all through the state. I am in the Bay Area right now and have never had a problem in SF or any where in L.A.. The thing is like other say use an ear bud in mot places and you will be fine as long as you are not breaking any laws.
 

rooivalk

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In S.F., there's no city ordinance that governs scanner usage.

In California, there's a law that prohibits the use of a scanner during the commission of a crime:

P.C. 636.5. Any person not authorized by the sender, who intercepts any
public safety radio service communication, by use of a scanner or any
other means, for the purpose of using that communication to assist
in the commission of a criminal offense or to avoid or escape arrest,
trial, conviction, or punishment or who divulges to any person he or
she knows to be a suspect in the commission of any criminal offense,
the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect or meaning of
that communication concerning the offense with the intent that the
suspect may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, conviction, or
punishment is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Nothing in this section shall preclude prosecution of any person
under Section 31 or 32.
As used in this section, "public safety radio service
communication" means a communication authorized by the Federal
Communications Commission to be transmitted by a station in the
public safety radio service.
 

korpseofdeath

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I live in the Bay Area. Hayward to be specific. I have talked to many Hayward PD's, and Alameda County Sheriff. From what they have told me, it is ok to carry around a scanner. I was even pulled over one night coming home because I was a suspicions vehicle.. (what really happen in my off ramp of the freeway is in a bad part of town, and I have to go through that to my neighborhood). So the local sheriff pulls me over, and chats with me for a second. I had my portable scanner on my dock in the center of my dash next to my cd player. I turned it off when he pulled me over, but did not try to remove it or hide it, because I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was in full work clothes as I just got off work, and he ask about why I had that. I said this is my hobby, and I listen in my car to and from work for my hobby and entertainment. The officer said it was a little weird and suspicious, but since I lived in the better part of town about 5 miles away, everything was good and he said it's perfectly legal to have one, and listen to one. Just as long as you are not an accomplice to a crime.. And don't show up to a scene, with one. :)
 

Fifty150

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Once upon a time, there was a nut. He drove a white sedan that had every bell & whistle: prisoner cage, flashing lights, extra antennas (plugged into nothing), a-pillar mounted spot lamps, push bars on front bumper......AND, you guessed it: a scanner. This guy would turn on his wig-wags, deck flashers, hidden strobes, et cetera, and "respond" at high speed to "hot calls". Said yo-yo would get in the way of vehicle pursuits, cruise around shining his spot light at random, and sometimes even pull people over to give them "warnings".

Actually, this type of behavior is not unique to just San Francisco. There's probably one or more of these guys in just about every major city. Some of these lunatics like to jump out with cameras so that when questioned, they can claim to be legitimate independent photo journalist who sell their photos to news organizations (even though none of them have ever sold a photo anywhere). These are the kinds of the guys that anti-scanner laws are meant to be used on. Now can you see why they don't mind if you're in your house listening, but don't want people doing it in cars? No cop wants to think that his communications are compromised and that the car he's chasing is listening in on the radio traffic.
 

cousinkix1953

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I have always used my scanners to avoid an accident or a crime scene.

Our local nut never even tried selling photos to the media. He was just a wanna-be cop and got in the way.

It reminds me of a certain United States senator, who made a name for herself chasing the police calls in San Francisco in the early 80s. Gavin Newsom was doing the same thing several years ago too. He backed off, only after some cops complained to the media about him being a bit of a pest, who chased a lot of routine calls not normally of interest to the mayor...
 

Fifty150

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I have always used my scanners to avoid an accident or a crime scene.
Also handy if you just happen to listen in and discover that there is a DUI checkpoint. Then you don't have to drive through it.



It reminds me of a certain United States senator, who made a name for herself chasing the police calls in San Francisco in the early 80s. Gavin Newsom was doing the same thing several years ago too. He backed off, only after some cops complained to the media about him being a bit of a pest, who chased a lot of routine calls not normally of interest to the mayor...

Wasn't Newsom recently seen at the scene of a multiple shooting? As I can recall, it was very recent. I guess once he heard over the air that the news vans were there, he decided it was a good photo op. There was footage of him going door to door talking to neighbors. "Inspector" Newsom must have been canvassing the area. So you're living in a high crime neighborhood and already scared. A whole family gets shot next door. Nothing like having a high profile politician talking to you on the evening news to put your mind at ease. None of the local thugs will think you're a snitch. They won't shoot up your house next. This is how you get witnesses to come forward.
 

Eng74

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Well you know you have radio geeked out if you stay in your room most of the time to get radio id's for San Francisco Fire Department units. You end up updateing radios all the time so you don't have time to go to any of the calls.
 
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When I am questioned by Police RE: Scanner

When asked why I have a scanner by any law enforcement officer my reply is always "I prefer to get my news in real time ". That usually satisfies them. One important thing to keep in mind in this situation is to be calm and confident. If you are not an officer is likely to think that you are up to no good and your traffic stop could turn into something ugly. The radio waves do not belong to any law enforcement agency. They belong to "We the People" and are regulated by the FCC on our behalf. We still live in a democracy (barely). Anyway, when police have anything that they don't want us to hear they can use their cell phones or the computers to communicate..
 
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