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Monitoring and the Law

Jorge Rodriguez


The Garden State’s Garden of Eden Scanner Law


            This month we move across the Hudson River for a look at the Garden State’s scanner laws. Revised in 1992 after almost 80 years on the books, New Jersey has perhaps one of the best and most reasonable scanner laws of any state. This is thanks in part to the efforts of the American Radio Relay League’s (ARRL) volunteer attorneys Frank Terranella and John Norton who worked diligently to get the new law passed.

            Instead of struggling with prohibitions on the types of equipment and frequencies which can and can’t be monitored, New Jersey’s scanner laws simply make it illegal to intercept communications to help you commit a crime or interfere with public safety officials performing their duties. It is also a crime in New Jersey to possess a radio which can tune into police, fire and emergency medical communications while committing a crime or fleeing from it.

            Specifically, Title 2C of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice section 33-21, titled Interception or use of official communications provides that, “Any person who intercepts any message or transmission made on or over any police, fire or emergency medical communications system, or any person who is the recipient of information so intercepted, and who uses the information obtained thereby to facilitate the commission of or the attempt to commit a crime or a violation of any law of this State, or uses the same in a manner which interferes with the discharge of police or firefighting operations or provision of medical services by first aid, rescue or ambulance squad personnel, shall be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.”

            The section immediately following that statute, 33-22, titled Possession of emergency communications receiver, prohibits, “Any person who, while in the course of committing or attempting to commit a crime, including the immediate flight therefrom, possesses or controls a radio capable of receiving any message or transmission made on or over any police, fire or emergency medical communications system, shall be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.”

            Without getting bogged down with what is a portable versus mobile or home radio scanner and which groups of persons are or are not exempt from the law, New Jersey merely prohibits what should be prohibited – using a radio scanner to help you break the law.

            In addition to these two scanner laws, New Jersey also prohibits students from possessing pagers on elementary and secondary school property and all persons from possessing them during the commission of certain crimes. It is also against most schools' rules for enrolled students to possess a cell phone on school property or during school.

            Lastly, New Jersey in statute 2C:33-23 specifically exempts “radar devices used to monitor vehicular speed” from their definition of what is a “police, fire or emergency medical communications system."


My Two Cents plus 35

             Some readers have written asking how they can find out if their city or county has a local ordinance concerning scanners or amateur radios that will tune police, fire and other government frequencies. One way is to look online. Many communities now have their local ordinances available free of charge through the Internet. The trouble here is that not all places will use the same words to regulate scanners. Readers should be creative as they search for such local laws since one community may ban “radios capable of receiving frequencies” while another bans “devices which can intercept communications.”

            Another way is merely to ask. While the speed of a telephone call may seem preferred, here I would suggest an investment of thirty-seven cents to send your question by regular mail. Such a method is more assured of reaching a person with the correct information and allows him time to reply.

            In addition to asking your local Chief of Police or Sheriff, don’t overlook the power of your local councilman or councilwoman – your local elected representative – as a source of this information. If your community has an ordinance you didn’t know about, this could be the best thirty-seven cents you spend on monitoring this year. If you find your community does regulate scanning radios, please drop me a note so we can share your find with other MT readers.


Upcoming Issues of Concern – Scanner Audio Online

             Do you operate an Internet Web site that makes available your community’s police or fire communications over the Internet? MT’s Monitoring and the Law is working on a future article of the legal issues surrounding this marriage of technologies. We are interested in hearing from you, especially if you obtained permission from the persons responsible for the communications before starting your webcast or if you’ve received letters or warnings asking you to remove such rebroadcasts.


Disclaimer: The information in this column is not legal advice. Persons wishing specific legal advice should consult an attorney licensed to practice law in their area.