Virginia State Police

As early as 1906 when Virginia began registering motor vehicles,The Secretary of Commonwealth was also responsible for the regulatory sections of the new law dealing with traffic movement. His staff was minimal and the burden was left to sheriffs, constables and other law enforcement personnel. No adequate state-administered staff existed to enforce the laws pertaining to motor vehicles traveling the often unnavigable dirt roads of the State during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Limited enforcement continued during the early 1920's, and by 1922,The General Assembly acknowledged the need for paid professional personnel to enforce the Automobile Acts. Eight inspector positions were created. These eight men comprised the Commonwealth’s Enforcement Division.

On March 24, 1923 the Division of Motor Vehicles was created and became a separate department of state government. The Secretary of Commonwealth transferred the enforcement powers of its office, which it had possessed since 1906, to the newly created DMV.

A motorcycle patrol force was formed within the Division . The "mechanical mule," as it was irreverently named by its courageous operators, became a part of the State Police mobile patrol for the next 30 years. In 1928,The Division of Motor Vehicles was authorized to hire 20 additional inspectors. Five hundred applications were received and the Virginia Highway Patrol grew to a total of 51. Motor vehicle operation was clearly not on the agenda as it is stated that one new inspector was issued a 1928 Ford which he could not drive because it had a "shifter" and he had never driven an automobile with a shift. It was insisted that he take the vehicle to his appointed station at West Point. This was completed with a chauffeur and upon arrival, the inspector was taught how to drive by the local chief of police.

In addition to highway patrol and the enforcement of motor vehicle statutes, the inspectors began pursuing traffickers of illegal whiskey. Hundreds of violators were apprehended during prohibition days. Many pursuits ensued over paved roads, dirt roads and paths through woods.

In 1932, Inspectors became empowered to enforce criminal codes, as well as motor vehicle codes. In doing so, legislators created a state enforcement group with the power of arrest anywhere in Virginia. A mobile enforcement agency was now ready for duty wherever civil strife or emergency conditions might exist that would warrant police personnel to ensure peace and security. It was at this time that inspectors began to be known as "troopers". White motorcycles and white roadsters were issued to inspectors and the citizens became acquainted with what was referred to as "The Great White Fleet." Chevrolet agreed to sell the Division new models for $250 each. Sirens were mounted on the right running boards and both doors bore the Seal of Virginia. On the rear of the car was identification of "Division of Motor Vehicles" and the admonition "Drive Carefully - Save Lives."

100 black and white Ford V-8s were delivered to the Division of Motor Vehicles in December of 1935. Equipment was to include safety glass, leather upholstery, twin taillights, two license plate brackets, horns and a siren. November 3, 1938, an executive order officially adopted the title of "State Trooper." The purpose of this was to identify specific members of the Division of Motor Vehicles performing in the roles of inspector and motorcycle deputy. The title of examiner remained in effect and identified those members responsible for issuing operator’s and chauffeur’s licenses. Troopers were issued a badge with a number that corresponded with the license numbers of their vehicles. Virginia State Police replaced "Commonwealth of Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles" on these plates. Unmarked patrol cars commenced service in 1940, and the following year, Twenty-five new white cars were added to "The Great White Fleet."

Unmarked black cars displaying regular issued license plates were used to apprehend habitual traffic law violators. On March 14, 1942, the General Assembly abolished the existing Division of Motor Vehicles and created two separate agencies: The Division of Motor Vehicles and The Department of State Police. With this separation, the State Police became responsible for its own communication system, vehicle garage and the administration, training, discipline and assignment of examiners of applications for operator’s and chauffeur’s licenses. The duties of the State Police also included supervision of inspection stations, the motor vehicle appliances, accessories and safety devices.

In 1948, A distinctive color scheme was designed of State Police patrol vehicles. The blue and gray automobiles enabled the motoring public to easily recognize State Police vehicles when assistance was needed and to help deter would-be traffic violators. Twelve motorcycles were purchased for special occasions and not for daily highway patrol. At large functions which attracted scores of tourists, traffic handling and control by automobiles was difficult but readily expedited by troopers on motorcycles.

In 1952, reflective markings which were easily recognizable at night marked the front, rear and sides of State Police vehicles. The lesser seal of the Commonwealth was placed on each side of the vehicle between "State" and "Police." In 1954, the VSP began to phase-out motorcycles.

In 1961,The canine program was instituted to afford the State Police and all enforcement agencies the tracking abilities of German shepherd dogs. One trooper and canine were assigned to each State Police division. In 1982, the VSP began enforcing a vehicle emissions inspection law in Northern Virginia. The motor carrier safety and hazardous materials units were also created in 1982. Staffed by troopers in each division, they ensured the safety of commercial motor carriers and buses. The Motor Carrier Safety Unit provided in-depth investigation of commercial vehicle crashes and enforced rules and regulations involving the transportation of hazardous materials. In 1985, the VSP went from red overhead lights to blue.

In 1987,The Department reinstituted the use of motorcycles to help control traffic and assist motorists in the highly congested areas of Northern Virginia and Tidewater. The motorcycles were Harley-Davidson model FXRPs and were painted the Department’s traditional blue and gray.

The mission of the Virginia State Police is to provide the Commonwealth with a responsive, coordinated, composite statewide police department, independent yet supportive of local law enforcement agencies; to preserve law and order; to enforce traffic and regulatory laws; and, to provide security and safety services to citizens of Virginia.

Virginia State Flag

A deep blue field contains the seal of Virginia with the
Latin motto " Sic Semper Tyrannis" - "Thus Always to Tyrants".
Adopted in 1776. The two figures are acting out the
meaning of the motto. Both are dressed as warriors.
The woman, Virtue, represents Virginia. The man holding
a scourge and chain shows that he is a tyrant.
His fallen crown is nearby.


1928-1932 issue. Embossed steel with debossed border (Approx 5 3/8" x 11 3/4"). The Virginia State Police say these plates were used beginning in 1928, contrary to other belief that these plates commenced in 1933. These license plates were in turn given to the West Virginia State Police for use on their patrol cars in the mid 1930's (See West Virginia State Police Page)
Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
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Circa 1932 (maybe earlier) -1935 issue- Embossed steel (Approx. 14 3/4" X 6") A white on black issue of the same dimension, dies and format exists as a 1932 issue as well.
Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
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1936-1940 issue. Embossed steel with debossed border.

Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
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Circa 1948-1966 issue. Although this type is usually called the 1940-1981 issue due to it's format and colors, this particular version is from as early as around 1948 and up to 1966 when the four corner holes and four short mounting slots were used with the debossed border.

Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection

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1948-1966 issue- Dark blue over grey. Colonel's issue.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff Francis
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1940-1981 issue- Although it's called 1940-1981 issue due to it's format and colors, this particular version is from the latter decade of the issue (1971-1981). Embossed aluminum,
four round mounting holes with embossed painted border.
STATE POLICE close to numerals.
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1971 issue- Embossed aluminum,
four round mounting holes with embossed painted border.
STATE POLICE spaced wider from numerals.
Courtesy of the Robert Ward Collection
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Late 1970's-1981 issue. Blue over reflective white.
Colonel's issue.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Francis
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Unusual color combination on this Colonel's plate.
Uses same dies/ layout as pre-1981 issue,
however white over reflective blue.
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1981-1987 issue- Colonel's Plate.
Embossed aluminum/reflective sheeting.
Embossed painted border, STATE POLICE and numerals.
State name silkscreened.

1981-1987 issue- Embossed aluminum/reflective sheeting. Embossed painted border, STATE POLICE and numerals.
State name silkscreened. 3 digit number.

Picture courtesy of the Virginia State Police

1981-1987 issue- Embossed aluminum/reflective sheeting. Embossed painted border, STATE POLICE and numerals. State name silkscreened. Colonel of VSP.
Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
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1987-1991 issue- Embossed aluminum/reflective sheeting. Embossed painted border and numerals. STATE POLICE and state name silkscreened. Darker shade of blue. 4 digit number


Picture courtesy of Darrin Nash



1991-circa 1993 issue- First issue "Badge tag". Embossed aluminum/ reflective sheeting. Embossed painted border and numerals. Remainder of plate including
VSP badge is silkscreened.


Picture courtesy of Jay Weinstein



1993-Current issue- Second issue "Badge tag". Same as 1991 version minus the embossed painted border. Step border instead.

1928-1932 motorcycle issue. Embossed steel with embossed border. The Virginia State Police say these plates were used beginning in 1928, contrary to other belief that these plates commenced in 1933. These license plates were in turn given to the West Virginia State Police for use on their patrol cycles in the mid 1930's (See West Virginia State Police Page)

Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
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Motorcycle plate - Late 80's to early 90's
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Motorcycle plate - Early 90's - Late 90's


Motorcycle plate - Late 90's - Current

Plate courtesy of the Bill Ceravola Collection
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Possibly a test blank or presentation plate for visiting dignitary from approximately 1973-1975 era. Not believed used for patrol as a front booster as dark blue/grey plates were still being used concurrent to this type's manufacturing date.

Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
 

Circa 1973-1980's. Embossed aluminum dash plate
used for unmarked vehicles.

Courtesy of the Wayne Tyler Collection
 

1990 NTC Issue

Most likely a dash plate or front plate
for the VSP Communications Officers

Picture courtesy of Tony Aleria