• Effective immediately we will be deleting, without notice, any negative threads or posts that deal with the use of encryption and streaming of scanner audio.

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Scanning in NY (Ideas about the Law)

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RobKB1FJR

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Idiotic me should have known better about the Scanning Laws in NY. I thought that my ham radio license made me exempt from this BS. I hastily read the law though. I must have confused NY with Florida or something.

Quick Story (No my Radio didn't get taken away or arrested, etc.):

I decided to bring my BCD-396T and my Icom UHF and VHF (IC-F14) handhelds to NYC. A few months ago I was thinking about bringing my spare Radio Shack no Thrills non trunking portable VHF/UHF scanner in case it got confiscated or something. I however forgot all about it and decided against it.

I should have known better, I originally planned to travel scanner free to the Statue of Liberty that day. I ended up bringing my BCD-396T with me at the last minute.

This story is going to show how police officers, interperate or apply the law to the current situation. What I am trying to say is that each police officer may have a different understanding of what a certain law may mean (this is where Supervisors and commanding officers come in the field).

-Arrived at the Statue of Liberty Screening area (at Battery Park, NY), Wackenhut asks me what it is I say its a police scanner, the gaurd is like I have to get a US Park Police Officer. US Park Police Officer comes out, he takes the scanner and asks his Sgt. if its okay if I have this. The Officer asks me what it RXs and I explained police stuff, etc. I said I don't listen to them because they are encrypted (There P-25 but you know what I mean). The Officer was very nice and professional and said its cool as long as I don't have it on and listening on the Islands (Ellis, Liberty, etc.). I thought okay no big deal I'm cool now. There the US Park Police they must communicate.

This is where the complete opposite happens and its kind of comical:

-Arrived at the Statue of Liberty Screening area (Liberty Island), Wackenhut asks me what it is I say its a police scanner, the gaurd is like I have to get a US Park Police Officer. While I was waiting I saw a senior officer (mid 40s probably) leave his post and a younger officer (my age mid 20s to early 30s) walks in with a bunch of newspapers and stuff and takes over at the senior officer's post. I kind of get the impression that hes kind of filling in for a break or something. Wackenhut gaurd then gives the Scanner to the US Park Officer. No Hi, no nothing all of a sudden he starts being a jerk. Asks me what's this? I said a Police Scanner, oh those are Illegal in NYS! You can't have this, What side did you come through? I said Officer, I didn't know it was illegal to own one (he is right I didn't know at the time) I was very nice to him, He could tell I was nervous and was taking advantage of it. He seemed more pissed because I interruppted his reading of the NY Post Sports page. I said I'm a ham radio operator, the Officer in NY said it was fine as long as I keep the radio off on this island, which I have been doing and I put the battery in backwards to avoid accidental turn ons. He then asks to see some ID, I am like good he is going to run me through do his job, make sure I am not wanted in 50 states. He didn't run me through at all. Probably after he saw my MA license he knew I was clueless. He then said what do I do? I said I am a Pharmacy Tech., and in the process of becoming an LPN, then an RN. He then has me turn on the scanner. (This is another reason not to use a complicated scanner like the BCD-396T in situations like this, earilier that day I found a bunch of Fed frequencies, one of which I was sure was the Park Police), I then shut close call off. He saw my NYPD and PAPD stuff. After all this he calls his Sgt, and I hear the Sgt. kind of whining at him to leave the kid alone and I am on my way. The US Park cop gives me some Terrorist BS excuse and let me go. He kept asking me what a Ham Radio license was and who do I work for. This also got me to thinking what is the point of "checking an ID" radomly or planned if you don't run it through the Warrants and Wants computer (III, NCIC, or in MA CJIS, WMS)

I looked at N2FG's scanner pages and understand the implications behind the law better.

Some things that I will now do when scanning in NY:

-Don't bring scanners to places like the Statue of Liberty
-Leave the nice radios at the Hotel
-Take the Cheaper no thrills VHF/UHF handheld scanner with you when out and about
-Don't assume all police officers view the law the same way
-Don't try to understand or bargain with police officers and the laws even if they make no sense
-Its whats in the radio that matters. This cop would have not cared if I had just ham radio stuff or CB in my scanner. Or Broadcast band.
-Scan Discreetly and use common sense.

What I don't understand

-Why does Radioshack in the PA Bus Terminal Sell scanners if they are so "illegal in NYS" (My guess is that they are legal to own and use as long as you don't listen to Public Safety)

-This law is outdated, maybe it was useful before cellphones and MDTs and encryption.

-The law should totally be changed to other states which make it unlawful to use in the commision of a crime, etc. that ideology. The wording of the current law seems like they rushed to write the law and the wording is contridicating as demonstrated on N2FG's site.

Just my .002 Cents
 
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Joseph11

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You can listen to any agency you want in NY, it's just illegal to use a scanner in your car.
 

maalox

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hi you should put on a radio station as one of the freqs. just tell them its a fm radio.
 

gatekeep

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I have to agree with Jospeh11, that it is not illegal to have the scanner on you outside of a car (and scanning for that matter). However, since 9/11 I think most public saftey agencies in NYC will ask questions about a radio reciever and/or transceiver (here I'm talking about commercial scanners and radios [not bubble pack BS FRS garbage]).

By the way, with you mentioning PO's interperting the law as they see it, I had once instance where I got stopped, and had the scanner on (but muted), the officer clearly saw it and said nothing, got my ticket, and I was on my way. This goes to show, some know the law other's either know it, and just don't care, or don't know it.
 
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Rico8458

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I always lower mine down when suspicious people are around me. discretion is the name of the game here in NYC. you see, some folks may hate the police, and if they hear that scanner mistake you for a cop and cause you harm.
 

n1das

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Nashua, NH
Joseph11 said:
You can listen to any agency you want in NY, it's just illegal to use a scanner in your car.
You can also legally listen to (non-encrypted) federal stuff too, like the park rangers.
 

N2OXV

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I agree with Joseph11 that it is legal to posess a scanner in New York as long as it is not in your car. I would like to take it a step further and point out that there is another section that will probably never apply to most scanner owners, but here it is straight out of the penal law.

140.40 Unlawful possession of radio devices.
As used in this section, the term "radio device" means any device
capable of receiving a wireless voice transmission on any frequency
allocated for police use, or any device capable of transmitting and
receiving a wireless voice transmission. A person is guilty of unlawful
possession of a radio device when he possesses a radio device with the
intent to use that device in the commission of robbery, burglary,
larceny, gambling or a violation of any provision of article two hundred
twenty of the penal law.
Unlawful possession of a radio device is a class B misdemeanor.
 

Signal-Zero

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Besides NYS PL §140.40 posted above, there is also NYS VTL § 397, Equipping motor vehicles with radio receiving sets capable of receiving signals on the frequencies allocated for police use. VTL 397 is basically your catch all "no scanner in the vehicle law," while PL 140.40 is designed for charging those using a scanner during the commission of certain crimes. The complete text of VTL 397 is listed below.

A person, not a police officer or peace officer, acting pursuant to his special duties, who equips a motor vehicle with a radio receiving set capable of receiving signals on the frequencies allocated for police use or knowingly uses a motor vehicle so equipped or who in any way knowingly interferes with the transmission of radio messages by the police without having first secured a permit so to do from the person authorized to issue such a permit by the local governing body or board of the city, town or village in which such person resides, or where such person resides outside of a city or village in a county having a county police department by the board of supervisors of such county, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both.

Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to apply to any person who holds a valid amateur radio operator's license issued by the federal communications commission and who operates a duly licensed portable mobile transmitter and in connection therewith a receiver or receiving set on frequencies exclusively allocated by the federal communications commission to duly licensed radio amateurs.

So basically...police and peace officers "acting pursuant to his special duties" are exempt. Amatuer radio operators who operate "duly licensed portable mobile transmitter AND in connection therewith a receiver or receiving set" are also exempt. This DOES NOT cover scanner use in a vehicle for hams. I know Florida had a provision in the statute which allowed ham radio operators to have SCANNERS in vehicles, but NY does not. The radio used by the ham must be a "duly licensed TRANSMITTER" to be exempt under VTL 397. This provision is basically exempting ham gear.

Now, does that mean every cop out there is going to bust your balls...absolutely not. I have stopped vollies in the FD and EMS and never said one word. I have stopped hams, no problem. I stopped a guy once and questioned why he had a scanner. His response, I listen to it on the way to work for accidents so I can take alternate routes. OK, makes sense to me. Then I stopped a car load of mopes with burglar tools and stolen property in the vehicle. Ahh, now the law comes in handy. I can also count numerous times when I was a dispatcher prior to becoming a LEO when I would receive calls from citizen saying where a suspect was, or giving directions to the lost cop trying to find a house that was not numbered and sat back off the roadway...who heard the call on the scanner. But just because people like me won't bust your balls, there are plently of other out there that will. Me personally...last thing I want to do is piss off the guy that wakes up in the middle of the night to answer my call for help for free !
 

DaveNF2G

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The radio used by the ham must be a "duly licensed TRANSMITTER" to be exempt under VTL 397. This provision is basically exempting ham gear.
The law does not say "transmitter." It says "duly licensed mobile amateur radio STATION," which typically (in real life if not in state law) includes transmitters and receivers, not always in the same box.

I did extensive research on this (and wrote an article on it) and the law is not at all clear about what is and is not allowed, nor do police officers enforce it consistenly or local judges interpret it the same way. It is in desperate need of revision.
 

Signal-Zero

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DaveNF2G said:
The law does not say "transmitter." It says "duly licensed mobile amateur radio STATION"
My info which says "transmitter" was cut and paste directly from the New York State Assembly website. Where are you getting "station?"
 

kc2kvz

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The law states both: "Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to apply to any person who holds a valid amateur radio operator's license issued by the federal communications commission and who operates a duly licensed portable mobile transmitter and in connection therewith a receiver or receiving set on frequencies exclusively allocated by the federal communications commission to duly licensed radio amateurs."
It's a question of semantics. A transmitter and its associated receiver or receivng set constitutes a "station". Nothing to get riled up about, however it does point out the incredibly confusing verbage used in laws. I guess that's why lawyers make the big bucks.
 
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DaveNF2G

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Yes, you're right - on all counts. The phrasing about a "station" that I was thinking of probably came from an earlier version of the statute. But it is confusing when words with debatable meanings are at the core of a law.

Also, the wording quoted by KC2KVZ would make it unlawful for a ham to drive in NYS with a transceiver that covers the shared portion of the 70cm ham band. The words "exclusively allocated" give rise to an as-applied challenge to the validity of the law if a ham is prosecuted under that specific fact pattern. Any provision that would conflict with the FCC's authority to license hams to use specific frequencies is pre-empted.

As a matter of simple necessity, as well as regulatory compliance, the operator of a ham (or any other) radio station must be able to receive the frequencies on which they would be transmitting. We are licensed to transmit between 420 and 430 MHz by the FCC. Part of that band is not an exclusive amateur allocation. New York State may not restrict our ability to use radios that operate in that range.
 

DaveNF2G

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Except for the most recent legislative session, a bill to amend Section 397 (mainly in favor of volunteers) has been introduced every year but has never made it out of the Transportation Committee.

Unless Bruno, Silver, or Pataki can find a way to give money to someone back home from it, an amendment to this law seems unlikely.
 

6m171

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DaveNF2G said:
Except for the most recent legislative session, a bill to amend Section 397 (mainly in favor of volunteers) has been introduced every year but has never made it out of the Transportation Committee.
And last I checked, it was Assemblyman Gantt who chairs that committee. And where is he from? Rochester. Dave, I think you can guess what direction I'm going with this...
 

red8

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The best thing is put it on the NOAA weather radio frequency that way the officer will not think you are listening to law enforcement. I do it is illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia to posses a police
scanner in your vehicle. And if the trooper finds it operating in your
vehicle he CAN confiscate it if you are caught listening in on police
calls. HOWEVER there is a way a it. I you put in a NOAA weather
frequency into the scanner you are less likely to lose it. I heard a trucker on a call in show say that.
 

DaveNF2G

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We all know how well the truckers did in law school, eh? I'm sure that's why they are truckers and not lawyers. :)

It's the presence of the radio in the vehicle that constitutes the violation, not the frequencies that it is receiving. The weather radio trick changes nothing.
 

scosgt

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Just to clarify a bit, as I am also a LEO.
Scanners are NOT illegal in NYS. They ARE Illegal in a MOTOR VEHICLE (NOTE: A bicycle is NOT a motor vehicle under NYS VTL, so the guy on a bike can be listening to the scanner in plain view, the guy in the car next to him can get arrested).
Possession in a car is a MISDEMEANOR, which is a CRIME. You can be subject to arrest, not just confiscation.
In New York City, if an Officer decides to act on this, absent the Penal Law charge regarding using the scanner in furtherance of a crime, generally the "bad guy" gets a summons or a DAT (deferred arrest). In the case of a summons, the case will basically go away with a small fine, as there is no Prosecutor or Attorney present in the summons part, and BOTH are required for someone accused of a crime. So the Court will reduce to a vioaltion, impose a fine and hasta la vasta baby. If you receive a DAT, that can and will be presecuted as a crime, the DAT part has both ADA and Assigned Counsel available. If there is no criminal record, it will probably wind up reduced to a violation.
The only actual case law I have seen is from a Town Court upstate, and while it did uphold the conviction of an individual for possessing a scanner in a car (not plugged in), that decision is not binding on anyone, so is only really relevent to that case.

The original poster, in my opinion, ran into something different - FACILITY RULES.
If you came into MY facility with a scanner, I would take it from you and hand you a voucher. You would certainly get it back upon leaving and not be charged with anything, but we will not allow you to monitor our operations inside the building for security reasons. The Park Police are Feds, and they make up their own rules. While they could not presecute someone for "scanner possession" under State Law, they make the rules at thier installation, and there "could" be some law against scanners on the Federal Books.
 
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