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Monitoring and the Law

Jorge Rodriguez


Kentucky Scanner Law: Use It and Lose It


            In a few weeks on May 1st, the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby will take place at Churchill Downs – Home of the Kentucky Derby near Louisville. Some of the visitors to this event, and certainly much of the media covering it, bring scanners to the event, but many may be unaware of Kentucky’s new anti-scanner law. Racing enthusiasts who visit the new Kentucky Speedway in Sparta about 40 miles southwest of Cincinnati, are even more likely to bring scanners – a common fan accessory in motorsports. These visitors, too, will be unaware of the law revised by the Kentucky legislature in 2000, the same year the Speedway opened.

            According to Mark Bajek, motorsports enthusiast and contributor to The Paddock (, a web site that caters to the motorsports fan and includes information on race scanning, visitors to Kentucky should be aware that “…officers are duly sworn to confiscate and destroy the radio on the spot.” The Paddock in fact warns its readers, "[b]efore taking your scanner to a race, be sure you are familiar with the laws of the state you are visiting regarding the use of radio scanners.”

            The actual text of the law in Kentucky that makes it illegal to possess a police scanner can be found at 432.570 entitled Restrictions on possession or use of radio capable of sending or receiving police messages. It states that: “(1) It shall be unlawful for any person except a member of a police department or police force or an official with written authorization from the head of a department which regularly maintains a police radio system authorized or licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, to have in his or her possession, or in an automobile or other vehicle, or to equip or install in or on any automobile or other vehicle, any mobile radio set or apparatus capable of either receiving or transmitting radio or other messages or signals within the wave length or channel now or which may hereafter be allocated by the Federal Communications Commission, or its successor, for the purpose of police radios, or which may in any way intercept or interfere with the transmission of radio messages by any police or other peace officers.”

            The law goes on to prohibit police scanners in certain vehicles. “It shall be unlawful for any car, automobile, or other vehicle other than one publicly owned and entitled to an official license plate issued by the state issuing a license for the car, to have, or be equipped with the sets or apparatus even though the car is owned by an officer. This section shall not apply to any automobile or vehicle owned or operated by a member of a sheriff's department authorized by the fiscal court to operate a radio communications system that is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission or other federal agency having the authority to license same.”

            Probation and parole officers are excluded since, "[n]othing in this section shall preclude a probation and parole officer employed by the Department of Corrections from carrying on his person or in a private vehicle while conducting his official duties an authorized, state-issued portable radio apparatus capable of transmitting or receiving signals.”

 Kentucky Penalties

             Section 2 for the law states its penalties and provides that any person found guilty of violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of between fifty dollars ($50) and five hundred dollars ($500), and / or imprisonment up to twelve (12) months.

            Kentucky authorities are authorized by the law to seize and ultimately destroy the police radio or scanner at issue, since the law provides that it shall be the duty of any and all peace officers to seize and hold for evidence any and all equipment used in violation of the provisions of this section, and, upon conviction of the person having, equipping or using such equipment, it shall be the duty of the trial court to order such equipment or apparatus destroyed, forfeited, or escheated to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

            Therefore, Mark Bajek's advice to motorsport entusiasts is accurate, since the law provides without much explanation that police scanners and radios “may be ordered destroyed, forfeited, or escheated as above provided without a conviction of the person charged with violating this section" (emphasis added).

Other Exemptions

             The anti-scanner law in Kentucky has many of the usual exceptions seen in other state’s laws, including licensed ham radio operators. “Nothing contained in this section shall prohibit the possession of a radio by: (a) An individual who is a retailer or wholesaler and in the ordinary course of his business offers such radios for sale or resale; (b) A commercial or educational radio or television station, licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, at its place of business; or (c) An individual who possesses such a radio, provided it is capable of receiving radio transmissions only and is not capable of sending or transmitting radio messages, at his place of residence; licensed commercial auto towing trucks; newspaper reporters and photographers; emergency management agency personnel authorized in writing by the director of the division of emergency management (for state personnel) or chief executive of the city or county (for their respective personnel); a person holding a valid license issued by the Federal Communications Commission in the amateur radio service; peace officers authorized in writing by the head of their law enforcement agency, Commonwealth's attorneys and their assistants, county attorneys and their assistants.”

            And then the Kentucky law adds what should have been the law here all along and what seemingly sticks out like a sore thumb in this part of the statute – “except that it shall be unlawful to use such radio to facilitate any criminal activity or to avoid apprehension by law enforcement officers.” And again the law reminds folks that a "[v]iolation of this section shall, in addition to any other penalty prescribed by law, result in a forfeiture to the local law enforcement agency of such radio.” Kentucky really wants to take away those illegal radios.

 Legal Afterthoughts

             Realizing that they exempted most of the legal and legitimate users of police scanners, but neglected to protect their own, the law winds up with further exclusions for law enforcement agency chiefs, fire department chiefs, ambulance service directors, and paid or volunteer members of a fire department and paid or volunteer members of a public ambulance service licensed in Kentucky who have been given permission in writing by the chief of the fire department. These persons may possess a radio capable of receiving on a frequency allocated to a police department or law enforcement agency, whether the radio is in a vehicle or not.

            The law concludes with what may, perhaps, be a loophole for all. The secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet is allowed to exempt the possession and use of any radio communication equipment that he finds the general public and other non-police persons may need for the proper operation of the NOAA weather radio system (see

            Whether such an order has been issued remains undetermined as we go to press, but, curiously, the exemption does not seem to require the equipment to be of the alert or alarm type that can be activated by a remote NOAA signal in times of weather emergency. Therefore, if such an order is issued, simply having the various 162.400 to 162.550 MHz frequencies in a scanner may possibly qualify it to be used for this NOAA radio exemption.

Disclaimer: Information in this column is provided for its news and educational content only. Nothing here should be construed as giving specific legal advice. Persons desiring legal advice about their specific situation should consult an attorney licensed in their jurisdiction.