Think you can hear Berkeley Police online? Think again

For most people, hearing Berkeley Police traffic on the radio has gone out of range. Photo: Emilie Raguso

For most community members, easy ways to listen to Berkeley Police scanner traffic are now out of range. Photo: Emilie Raguso

In recent months, Berkeleyside has heard from multiple residents who still believe they can listen to what’s happening with local police calls on their phones or online.

Said one, in response to an email alert that went out to a neighborhood group in January, which listed a previously active online channel as a good resource: “I have … been tuned into the internet scanner feed given out in the email. I have not heard one thing. Perhaps I have not tuned in and listened long enough to hear any calls come over the airways.”

Other readers have said they use a cellphone app to tune in, or suggested various web links, in response to crime stories Berkeleyside has posted. Wrote one on Facebook last year: “Anyone can listen in to the BPD and BFD radio feeds,” which was followed by a link to a site that hosts scanner chatter.

But, in fact, Berkeley frequencies are now part of a regional “trunked” system, which means members of the public can no longer hear them via the means that may be easiest. (Very limited Berkeley Fire Department broadcasts are still available online, but do not represent all the department’s traffic.)

In December, Berkeleyside made the $400+ investment to purchase a scanner to monitor local frequencies to help track important public safety incidents for our readers. It’s already led to exclusive reports on several local crime stories.

Previously, in addition to online and cellphone access, a much cheaper scanner had been sufficient to hear what was going on with local public safety agencies. Under the new system, those options became obsolete.

To figure out which scanner to purchase, we checked with members of NALCO, a local group of amateur radio experts who are part of an area-wide network of community-driven disaster preparedness efforts. The scanner they recommended was the Uniden TrunkTracker IV. Listed at $599, Amazon currently sells new models for $399.

Berkeleyside readers already submit many tips to us via emailTwitter and Facebook regarding public safety incidents of concern. Now that the Berkeleyside scanner is set up, it provides another channel for us to find out quickly what’s happening around the city. We urge readers not to hesitate to get in touch with questions and photographs. We can’t promise to track down the details of every incident, but we’re committed to doing so for significant cases.

The Uniden TrunkTracker IV picks up local police frequencies.

The Uniden TrunkTracker IV picks up local police frequencies.

Setup for the TrunkTracker is complicated. Even an “easier to read” guide created in December did not prove to be altogether helpful. But, after perhaps five hours spent on a recent Sunday consulting several resources in tandem, Berkeleyside is happy to report that our scanner is on and receiving the radio reports of Berkeley, Albany and the University of California police departments, as well as the Berkeley Fire Department.

(As an aside, we’re told that a newer model that’s easier to program may be on the way to market, but were advised by NALCO that there was no real need to wait for it.)

Readers who are interested in purchasing their own scanners would be wise to bookmark this page of Alameda County control channels and talk groups, via You’ll need it. Anyone who does purchase this scanner and would like basic technical help is also welcome to reach out to Berkeleyside via email. The authoritative source on this model is this Wiki page.

Why the city of Berkeley made the switch

The East Bay Regional Communications System has been online for the past few years. Berkeley announced its intention to join that system in 2011 “to come into compliance with federal requirements for the City’s radio system, as well as to provide radio interoperability for the City’s public safety first responders.” The system was created by authorities in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and other participating organizations.

The goal of the federal rules has been to make it easier for first responders to communicate during emergencies.

A 2011 staff report submitted by then-City Manager Phil Kamlarz said the city faced “several legal requirements” that necessitated the replacement of its radio equipment by the end of calendar year 2012.

He wrote that a new system, in compliance with federal rules, was required to be off the ground by January 2013. Any devices out of compliance after that date would result in a $5,000 fine.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said the department began the radio transition in July 2011. Efforts continued until September 2013, when the digital switchover was completed. Coats noted that, not only does the new system comply with federal rules, it also makes it much easier to reach agencies throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which she said is “vital in the event of a major disaster or incident.”

Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Avery Webb said the new system has vastly improved communication, making it easier to speak with police and other fire agencies, which previously had not been as straightforward. He said communicating directly with police doesn’t come up that often, but that the new system has been particularly helpful with coordinating fire responses to larger multi-agency incidents, even across county lines.

“It hugely expanded our ability to communicate,” said Webb. “It’s a dramatic improvement over what we had before.”

According to the Kamlarz report, Measure GG money — the Fire Protection and Emergency Response and Preparedness Tax — helped pay for the transition, to the tune of nearly $2.6 million. He estimated annual operating costs at $280,000.

Berkeleyside publishes a weekly police blotter to keep residents informed about calls for service and recent arrests. Our complete crime section is online here. Other sources of information include the Police Department’s CrimeView Community and CrimeMapping.comSee also the list of calls to UC Police at Berkeley, and Local Crime News’ regularly published list of arrests of Berkeley residents

Berkeley CERT volunteer academy takes off this weekend (08.02.13)
Local amateur radio group to host field day June 22 (06.20.13)
Berkeley unites for earthquake safety (04.29.13)
Join the Berkeley-wide emergency drill April 27 (04.10.13)
Berkeley targets underserved for disaster preparedness (10.04.12)
Preparing for the Big One: Berkeley neighbors do the drills (05.21.12)
On Saturday: Berkeley practices for a major earthquake (05.18.12)
Gear up for the Big One with help from friends (06.17.10)

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Bill N

    I’m glad to see some regional communications cooperation especially in time for this fire season!

    This also goes to show you that you need some high school or middle school students helping out at Berkeleyside to help setup equipment like this!

  • sue t

    Thank you for this information. I’m glad to have Berkeleyside active in this arena!

  • emraguso

    We had two tech savvy adults working on it and, believe me, this thing is not at all straightforward. Not that we’re radio experts, but I think this scanner is known even among radio people in the know for being a bear. It’s absolutely not intuitive and the existing instructions are lacking, though I’ve been thinking about putting something together that breaks it down very easily for locals. Anyway, extra hands are often good but in this case I don’t think even the students would have been able to figure it out. :)

  • Whoa Mule

    Home gamers who are intrigued by the idea of acquiring a scanner, should understand a couple of things. Firstly, emraguso is not exaggerating about the difficulty of getting the scanner to catch the correct channels. When you get online, you will find that the BPD is very professional and there is almost no ‘chatter’. Also, if the officer is discussing crime information, suspects, etc., they go over to their cell phones. Finally, if you have a scanner with you in your car and you get pulled over, expect to get quizzed.

  • Phineas Phreek

    Come on Berkeleyside, get that police scanner streaming online!

  • emraguso

    Interesting idea. How would that work?

  • Phineas Phreek

    First, get someone smarter than me, then add wires or something :)

    BerkeleyBarb managed to do it, RadioReference managed to do it, it must be possible, and I *think* I’ve seen other depts on the East Bay Regional Communications System (EBRCS) streaming online. There will probably be a line of Ham gearheads ready to get to it within 24 hours, now that you’ve said “interesting idea”! Thanks!

  • emraguso

    It used to stream online when it was a different system — but interesting to hear that other EBRCS channels seem to be online. It’s possible that those are redundant streams that will be phased out — but if it’s actually that someone has made it work, that is very cool. I would love to see that resource available community wide. I can follow up with NALCO and see if they have any ideas.

  • I believe that Oakland is one of the few cities in the East Bay which won’t interoperate with the EBRCS, in part because they already made a large expense in radio equipment a few years before everyone else and they didn’t want to upgrade again. Since Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay and has the largest number of emergency events, their absence is a concern.

    I see that Oakland is not listed on the list at . That’s not an authoritative list, but it does show a number of other cities in the region. While the maps show the regional coverage, some of that is in regards to
    Alameda countywide communications and communications of state and
    federal agencies in the area, not Oakland citywide operations.

    This was brought up as a concern during several Berkeley CERT-related
    meetings. We were concerned that when the big earthquake hits, emergency radio communication with Oakland will be difficult.

    Is it still the case that Oakland’s radio system will not
    interoperate with the EBRCS?

  • Todd Stiers

    Ffmpeg off a digital side of an analog to digital card/usb stick, fed to a darwin or shoutcast or ffmpeg reflector would do it.

  • emraguso

    I’m happy to ask unless someone else jumps in with the answer. Great question. Your understanding of the background is the same is mine.

  • suckatash

    If you can capture (and decrypt) the signal from the air, then you can stream it online. The question is how hard does BPD and other local departments want to keep the dispatch out of the public. DHS has dumped a ton of $$$ into local police forces across the country for reasons unclear. But I’m guessing it’s not to protect and serve us. There’s got to be an old Ham Radio op in Berkeley that is dedicated to making this available.

  • iicisco

    Oakland has two radios systems, well did rather. EDACS and their own P25 system. At this time Oakland is operating on their own system and may join EBRCS in two years or so for Project 25 Phase II.

  • iicisco

    Berkeleyside, you are aware you can have scanners programed for you correct? This service is offered on eBay as both a stand alone service and as a package deal should you (well any reader rather) purchase a scanner from the right seller. Further, purchasers should be aware that audio quality will vary based on the equipment used and the distance from the cell site/agency you intend to monitor.

    To briefly touch on streaming, you will need to dedicate a compatible scanner to a particular frequency/talk group 24/7 in order for it to be accessible online through brodcastify(a move was made from RR) to the general public. This is done by using a program such as Butel, Pro Scan, Win 500 etc..

  • emraguso

    I’m not surprised to hear this but I was determined to set it up myself after reading through various reviews and forums.

  • Thanks for the info. Am I correct in reading that Project 25 Phase II isn’t compatible with Phase I?

  • iicisco

    Not exactly. Phase II systems are backwards compatible with Phase I trunked systems. However, in the event a talk group is TDMA only then that Phase I user or users will be out of luck. There is one exception which applies to systems that allow mixed-mode.

  • Stephen Mitchell

    I have the scanner suggested and, although different, isn’t that difficult. There’s no need to pay someone to program it for you though. Software is available that makes the whole thing a LOT easier such as ARC-396 available from BuTel.

  • emraguso

    My understanding is that the software only works with PCs — it that your experience?

  • Stephen Mitchell

    What kind of computer are you using? Mac?

  • Jonus Grumby

    The newer scanners like the BCD-396XT & 996XT are not your dad’s scanning receiver from yesteryear. Instead of dealing with crystals, frequencies, channels & banks you are having to learn systems, talkgroups, talkgroup IDs & control channels. Using a computer to program them make it a bit easier to learn how they work. There are many sources for software (Butel, Freescan, etc.). Some can be obtained for for free while other require a minimal fee to be paid to use it beyond a “demo” mode. Many local radio shops can do the programming for those who are not savvy in this world. Check with local amateur radio clubs to see if somebody in their ranks could help out. Yes, they are complicated, but not impossible to tame.

  • emraguso

    FYI, for those who are interested, we heard from local resident Jeff Johnston who said that “Over the last couple weeks, I have been completing the integration of my streaming setup to get Berkeley’s Police and Fire signals online. This feed is part of the new EBRCS (digital trunked) system. What is nice is that you can access the feed on a number of devices, iOS, Android, web browser, etc.”

    Here it is:

    If you check it out, let us know.

  • Congratulations. Thanks for this resource. Listening to the scanner reminds me just how busy our police, Firefighters and EMTs are every night. What a hard job.