Arizona Highway Patrol

In 1901 the territorial governor of the state organized the "Arizona Rangers." This small force made a strong impact on the rustling and smuggling problems of the time but was disbanded in 1909, three years before Arizona achieved statehood.

Twenty-two years later, because of concern regarding the growing number of accidents and unlicensed vehicles on its highways, the Arizona Highway Patrol was instituted as a branch of the Arizona Highway Department. This is one of the reasons why most license plates used by enforcement vehicles from the 1930's to the 1960's were Highway Department plates.The initial force in 1931 was limited to a superintendent, 14 patrolmen (one authorized for each county) and one desk sergeant.

In 1967, the governor's crime commission recommended creation of the department to "assemble state-level law enforcement activities into a single, effective governmental unit." Two years later, on July 1, 1969, the Arizona Department of Public Safety was officially established.

It consolidated the functions and responsibilities of the Arizona Highway Patrol, the Enforcement Division of the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, and the Narcotics Division of the Arizona Department of Law. Since 1969, the Department has been charged with additional responsibilities and has developed into a modern, comprehensive law enforcement agency.

With its main headquarters in Phoenix, the DPS employs over 1600 employees working together to serve and support the interests of public safety throughout Arizona.

State Flag

The 13 rays of red and gold on the top half of the flag represent
both the 13 original colonies of the Union, and the rays of the
Western setting sun. Red and gold were also the colors
carried by Coronado's Spanish expedition in search of the
Seven Cities of Cibola in 1540. The bottom half of the flag
has the same Liberty blue as the United States flag.
Since Arizona was the largest producer of copper in the
nation, a copper star was placed in the flag's center.

 

LICENSE PLATES OF THE ARIZONA DPS/ HIGHWAY PATROL

Since the agency was formed in 1931, Arizona Highway Department plates were primarily used on AHP patrol vehicles. These plates mirrored passenger plate formats and colors of the day, as can be seen by some of the examples below. The H within a diamond symbol characterized Highway Department plates and the use on marked AHP patrol vehicles continued until the early 1970's. Validation decals were used from 1962 to 1965 on the 1961 base plate. Plates were run front and rear during this time frame.

In late 1971/early 1972, new Department of Public Safety license plates were introduced for AHP marked patrol vehicles. These plates were made of embossed aluminum and were painted black on deep orange. The state name was embossed along the top between the upper bolt-holes. Below that was the registration number commencing with the prefix AZ followed by numbers ranging from 1000 to 4900. Along the bottom of the plate was DEPT.PUBLIC SAFETY embossed. These plates were used until 1986 and the deep orange background had a tendency of fading to a dusty pink color from exposure to the sun over a long period of time.

In 1986, DPS plates continued to be used on AHP patrol vehicles but on a chrome yellow over brown color that was supposed to be more resistant to sun-fade. The plate format was otherwise identical to the 1971/72 version and the numbers ranged from the 5000's to the 7000's.


1929 Arizona State Highway Department - Unlikely used for
highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves
to be showcased here
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this type plate on duty....
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1929 Arizona State Highway Department TRAILER - Unlikely used for
highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves
to be showcased here
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this type plate on duty....
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1930 Arizona Highway Department trailer-
Unlikely used for highway patrol duties, but the rarity
of this plate deserves to be showcased here.

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this type plate on duty....
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1933 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol. Black over copper.
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this type plate on duty....
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19
34 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol. Blue paint over copper.
Debossed "ARIZONA"and year.
Remainder of plate is embossed.
Plate courtesy of the John Yeaw Collection
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this type plate on duty....
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1935 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol. Black over copper.
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this type plate on duty....
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1938 issue.
Embossed steel 10 1/ 4" x 5 1/ 2"
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1939 Arizona Highway Department. Type used by Highway Patrol. Plate commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the arrival in the area of Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan Friar who was in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola.
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1940 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol.
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1948 Arizona Highway Department- type used by
Arizona Highway Patrol Black on aluminum
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1949 Arizona Highway Department- type used by
Arizona Highway Patrol Green on aluminum
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1952 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol.
Plate courtesy of the John Yeaw Collection
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this type plate on duty....
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1956 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol.
Plate courtesy of the John Yeaw Collection

Photo Courtesy of Paul Swietek

1959 Arizona Highway Department.
Type used by Highway Patrol.
Plate courtesy of the John Yeaw Collection
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1971-1986 issue. First year that DPS title plates were used


Picture courtesy of Jay Weinstein

Photo Courtesy of Paul Swietek

In the Summer of 1986, the 3M Company of Minnesota manufactured and provided experimental graphic license plates to be run on 200 of the 700 Arizona DPS patrol vehicles around the state. The idea behind the experiment was to see how the graphics, paint, reflective sheeting and holograms held-up against the blistering Arizona sun over a given time frame. The plates were aluminum and had embossed registration numbers painted blue over the reflective white sheeting. The remainder of the plate was silk-screened with a light blue banner along the top lateral quarter of the plate with ARIZONA screened in black between the upper bolt-holes. DEPT.PUBLIC SAFETY was screened in black along the bottom. The holograms consisted of up to five small Arizona HP 7-point star badges running vertically down the center sheeting of the plate. By late 1987, the experiment had run its course and plates began to be "retired" from the patrol vehicles. By January of 1988, 3M and Arizona DPS officials recalled the last of these plates for examination and subsequent destruction. Not many of these experimental plates survived, and even mint un-issued ones like the one pictured were also destroyed and sent for scrap. (Fortunately, mine escaped the "scrapped" part!)

1986 3M experimental plate used on only 200 of the 700 AZHP cars in service from August 1986 until November of 1988. Plates were recalled and destroyed, This plate has vertical shear cut from top to bottom over the "Z".

Photo Courtesy of Monty McCord

1986 3M experimental issue.
Used and intact (no post-project vertical cut)

Courtesy of the Bob Bruce Collection

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this type plate on duty....
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It was decided in 1988 to continue with the durable chrome yellow over brown plates that were still used concurrent to the 3M experimental plates. However, for reasons still unknown, the AZ prefix and the DEPT.PUBLIC SAFETY legend was dropped in favor of generic GOVERNMENT and STATE VEHICLE titled plates. These plates were in the numbering format of G-###@@. In November of 1996, the state of Arizona re-plated to an attractive multi-colored design with a desert-scape along the bottom of the plate. Arizona state government plates assigned to the Highway Patrol used the same graphic base in the G-###@@ format, and continue to use it to this day.

Late 1986 through to 1990's. Type used concurrent to experimental graphic plates



1987- 1992 Government Issue

Picture courtesy of Jay Weinstein

1987-1992 issue with STATE VEHICLE along bottom.
Plate courtesy of the Robert Ward Collection

Picture courtesy of Jay Weinstein

1992-Current Government Issue

FRONT PLATES USED BY ARIZONA DPS/ HIGHWAY PATROL
From 1931 until at least 1971, the Highway Department plates were run front and rear. By the time the DPS and later versions came out, a variety of plates including no plates at all were used on the front of AHP vehicles. The most predominant were flat aluminum or plastic state flag plates. Some reflective, some not. Some with unit numbers inscribed, and others not. One issue as shown, placed the state speed limit "55 MPH" along the bottom.

Front plate-55 MPH
- mid to late 70's
 

Older style front flag plate. Embossed reflective aluminum.
Painted maroon on backside.
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Front plate-State Flag + 55 MPH
Plate courtesy of the Robert Ward Collection
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Front plate-State Flag

Picture courtesy of Jay Weinstein

Current Issue Front Plate


Current Issue Front Plate
Photo Courtesy of Paul Swietek

Photo Courtesy of Paul Swietek

National Troopers Coalition Plate

Picture courtesy of Bill Ceravola
MOTORCYCLE PLATES USED BY ARIZONA DPS/HIGHWAY PATROL
The information on motorcycle use since 1931 by the Arizona Highway Patrol is sketchy at best. S-prefix "State" motorcycle plates were used which were identical in shape, format and color to regular motorcycle plates of the day. Currently, motorcycle plates used by AHP motor units are similar in color and style as the car plates but have a four digit number followed by the suffix SA stacked on the right.

1958 State motorcycle base
A VERY rarely seen used specimen.
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this type plate on duty....
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1958 State motorcycle base
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1970's State motorcycle base
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This is the current issue plate for all
police motorcycles in the state of Arizona.

Arizona Highway Patrol ACE Award License Plates
Since at least 1986, the AHP have had an Aggressive Criminal Enforcement award program similar to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The plate award program was split into 2 facets. The first ACE award plate was a plain flat reflective white plate trimmed in blue. The AHP officer who would recover a stolen vehicle and arrest the car thief, would get a blue lightning bolt to affix to the plate which was displayed only on the front of the patrol car. Up to four bolts were supposed to be allotted to the flat plate. The second facet of the program was upon the completion of the fifth stolen vehicle recovery and arrest. This award plate was in similar color to the "bolt plate" but had the word ACE embossed in blue in the middle. It is unknown if the agency still has an ACE program and if ACE plates are still used. Please drop me a line if you know.

(AZHP) Aggressive Criminal Enforcement issue-
Completely flat- screened issue

Courtesy of the Bob Bruce Collection


Plates courtesy of the John Yeaw Collection