Radio Scanners and New York State Law

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Radio Scanners and New York State Law

Postby abaduck » Tue Feb 13, 2007 7:37 pm

cjvrr wrote:Since you are coming from overseas, I would not suggest getting a RR scanner. Supposedly having a scanner in your car is a no-no in New York State, so no sense having it especially if english is not you first language.


<blinks>

What on earth? I've seldom met a railfan at Iona, for instance, who *doesn't* have a scanner - and they all drove there. Can you explain a bit more? Is it illegal to have, or to use, or what exactly? A cite would be helpful.

Thanks

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Postby clearblock » Tue Feb 13, 2007 7:57 pm

This has been discussed extensively on here and other railfan forums.

Section 397 of the NY V&T Law prohibits "equipping" a motor vehicle with a radio "capable" of receiving police frequencies.

A scanner mounted in or in any way attached to the vehicle is clearly in volation. A portable scanner used in but not connected in any way to the vehicle is a questionable but it has been prosecuted.

The law is a misdemenor - possible 6 mounths in jail! Usual penalty is a plea bargin to a non-misdemenor vehicle equipment violation and a fine and possible seizure of the scanner.

It is seldom enforced but it can be if you come to the attention of a police officer. With the homeland security paranoia, this is something the police can use against you if they decide you are engaged in suspicious activity.

If you are standing outside the vehicle with a handheld scanner this law does not apply but Peanl Law 140.40 "unlawful possession of a radio device" could be used if the officer has reason to believe you are about to commit a burglary or similar crime.

The above post was prudent advice.
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Postby abaduck » Tue Feb 13, 2007 8:17 pm

Thanks clearblock... think that's me well and truly screwed. As a legal immigrant but not yet a US citizen, I have to be *very* careful not to break any laws, in case it causes problems with my citizenship application.

A thought... presumably the manufacturers are well aware of this law and at least some make 'NY-compliant' scanners which have gaps in coverage corresponding to police frequencies? That's how it operates in the UK.

Do you know if mens rea is required for the offence? i.e. is it a good defence if you didn't know the scanner was capable of picking up police frequencies?

Thanks again.

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Postby clearblock » Tue Feb 13, 2007 9:02 pm

There are no readily available scanners that only cover RR frequencies.

There are some railfans that use commercial 2way radios that can be programmed by a dealer with transmit capability disabled and to receive only RR frequencies. These would be legal but it would be difficult to convince a police officer that it was not an illegal radio.

There is an exception in the law for licensed radio amateurs if the radio receiver is part of an amateur mobile unit and covers the other frequencies in addition to the amateur bands.

If you have a handheld scanner that is not used and kept out of sight when in the vehicle and used only when out of the vehicle and you are not trespassing or enganged in any suspicious activty, there should be no problem.

My understanding is that the courts have held that "capable" of police frequencies requires only that the user could receive such frequencies with the radio, not that it was actually intended to be used to receive the police. Most police officers are aware of the law but do not go looking for violators unless they find someone with a scanner in the vehicle that has come to their attention for some other reason. But, with railfan activity now considered a suspicious activity by some, it is best be discreet and not to run the risk of arrest.

If you want a detailed description of this law see this link:

http://www.nf2g.com/scannist/VTL397.html
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Postby abaduck » Tue Feb 13, 2007 9:21 pm

Thanks again clearblock... I don't routinely use the scanner in the car, but when (for example) I hit the road leading to Bear Mtn bridge, I switch the scanner on to the River Line frequency; depending on what I hear coming I may decide to head north or south.

I guess if I leave the scanner off I'll be ok; simply carrying a scanner in your backpack couldn't possibly be construed as 'equipping' a vehicle surely?!

The problem will solve itself in a month, and I'll be free (encouraged, in fact) to install a proper scanner in the car: I'll officially be a volunteer firefighter by then! :-D

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Postby clearblock » Tue Feb 13, 2007 9:42 pm

abaduck wrote:The problem will solve itself in a month, and I'll be free (encouraged, in fact) to install a proper scanner in the car: I'll officially be a volunteer firefighter by then! :-D

Mike


Unfortunately, there is no exception in V&T 397 for a volunteer firefighter.

The only persons allowed to have a scanner are "a police officer or peace officer, acting pursuant to his special duties" unless you have a permit issued by "the local governing body or board of the city, town or village in which such person resides".

A letter from your Fire Chief is no good unless he is specifically authorized by the local government to issue such a permit. Your local police may respect the fact that you are a firefighter and take no action but any police officer can make an arrest unless you have a permit issued by the "authorized" local government official.

I am in no way in favor of or defending this law. I only recognize that it has been the law for many years and it can be arbitrarily enforced so you need to be aware of the consequences.
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Postby abaduck » Tue Feb 13, 2007 10:05 pm

clearblock wrote:
abaduck wrote:The problem will solve itself in a month, and I'll be free (encouraged, in fact) to install a proper scanner in the car: I'll officially be a volunteer firefighter by then! :-D

Mike


Unfortunately, there is no exception in V&T 397 for a volunteer firefighter.

The only persons allowed to have a scanner are "a police officer or peace officer, acting pursuant to his special duties" unless you have a permit issued by "the local governing body or board of the city, town or village in which such person resides".


On further checking you're right; there IS a Bill to give firefighters an exception (which is what I'd heard), but it turns out it's not actually law yet.

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Postby clearblock » Wed Feb 14, 2007 10:13 am

The law has been in existence since the 1930's and every time the state legislature gets involved they make the law tougher rather than exempt anyone. I have heard of efforts to exempt firefights and EMTs for the last 20 years or so and nothing has happened.
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Postby scharnhorst » Wed Feb 14, 2007 4:39 pm

I bring a portable scanner with me all the time while railfaning and have gone long distance with it on befor with out any trouble from the police. I've never had any trouble with the police even when they have seen my scanner siting in plane view on the roof of the car. They won't bother you as long as your not listening to the police channels and accrding to my uncle who is in the shariffs department he told me that in reality only emergency EMS and volinteer fire fighters can have scanners in there cars. If your out railfaning you won't get bothered as long as your not traveling from point A to Point B with your scanner on.
Last edited by scharnhorst on Wed Feb 14, 2007 10:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Wed Feb 14, 2007 5:55 pm

I keep my portable scanner out of sight when I travel, and I have never had a problem using it outside my vehicle when railfanning.

Your results may vary.

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Postby Noel Weaver » Wed Feb 14, 2007 6:18 pm

This is really a "gray area". The law is obvious but today a fair number of
scanners no longer pick up police frequencies. Many police department
today use 800 frequencies which my Bearcat scanners are not capable of
picking up.
Here in Florida, to be on the safe side, I use an old Bearecat scanner
which has only four channels in it in the low or high band. It is crystal
turned and I have two channels for the FEC and two for the CSX/Tri-Rail.
I realize that old crystal turned scanners are for the most part, no longer
available and many areas also need more than four channels due to the
activity at a certain location.
One thing I would definately advise and that is to absolutely NOT listen to
any police frequencies and that includes railroad police as well while
using your radio.
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Postby nessman » Wed Feb 14, 2007 8:10 pm

Bottom line... scanners are illegal in NY when:

a.) used in the commission of a crime
b.) are capable of receiveing police frequencies installed in a motor vehicle unless you're a ham or a cop.

Outside of that - listen to your heart's content whenever and wherever.
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Postby Robert Paniagua » Thu Feb 15, 2007 7:34 am

I know it's a little O/T, but are scanners legal down in Montgomery Co, MD, Ive used it there for scanning their CSX, but never had a problem, but while in WMATA through DC-MD-VA, I don't know if it;s different, they have evrything, including transit police, which I've monitored.

But back in New York, there's another reason that I normally don't take my scanner with me, and that's because someone may steal it from me, a bad crook, so I don't take it with me. Hence that's why scanners are illegal in New York, esopecially in the City.
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Postby clearblock » Thu Feb 15, 2007 10:24 am

nessman wrote:b.) are capable of receiveing police frequencies installed in a motor vehicle unless you're a hamsexual or a cop.


Even those exemptions are limited thanks to the muddy language put in this law by our state legislature.

The ham exemption applies only to a receiver used in connection with "a duly licensed portable mobile transmitter".

The peace officer exemption requires "acting pursuant to his special duties" so it can be argued that it applies only if the officer is on duty or in a location where he has arrest powers under the Criminal Procedure Law. If he is on vacation out of his jurisdiction he possibly could be arrested by a local cop.

The law requires only that the radio is capable of receiving ANY "frequency allocated for police use". It is irrelevant that the local police may be on a different frequency band.

The precedent that "equipped" means only that the radio is inside the vehicle and potentially capable of police frequency reception came from a 1974 case in Suffolk County, People vs Verdino.

There have been periodic attempts to amend the law for about 20 years to clean up the wording and provide an exemption for firefighters and EMTs but it always has died in committee.

The provision for local govenments to issue permits is generally moot since few have established a procedure for such permits or are willing to do so.
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Postby keeper1616 » Thu Feb 15, 2007 10:43 am

The other option, which is can be just as cheap as a scanner, is get a HT and program it to RR frequencies, but don't program it to transmit. Decent used Motorola radios can be had for <100 on ebay.
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