New Mexico banner image
gallery of police cars

In 1933, the New Mexico Motor Patrol was established, primarily to enforce traffic laws. The state of Texas had recently created their own motor patrol, and they detailed Captain Homer Garrison to conduct the first New Mexico Motor Patrol recruit school at St. Michael's College in Santa Fe.

One hundred thirty-five men applied for the school; eighteen were selected to attend; and ten were finally chosen and commissioned as the first motor patrol officers. Each officer was issued a Harley Davidson motorcycle with siren, red light, and other accessories.

By 1935, the need to expand the authority and responsibility of the motor patrol was widely recognized. The Twelfth State Legislature changed the name of the organization to the New Mexico State Police, and gave its officers full police powers to enforce all laws of the state and complete statewide jurisdiction. The authorized strength was raised to 30 officers; the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain were added; and salaries were increased.

The uniform adopted in 1936 is still in use today, with the exception of the riding breeches and boots favored by motorcycle officers. Around this time, seven Chevrolet sedans were added to the department's fleet and a new headquarters building was designed and constructed at a cost of $19,000.

By 1937, all patrol cars were replaced by motorcycles except for 3 (Chief, Detective and Pool car) 1938 saw the addition of the door shield design that is still in use today. In 1961, the transition began of phasing out black and white cars in favor of all white versions with a single red rooftop rotator light.

1973 saw the formation of the NMSP Tactical Team. In 1979, the NMSP was removed from the control of the Criminal Justice Department, and became an independent agency. 1980/81 saw the implementation of light bars to replace the double red rotator lights, and also saw the introduction of slick-top patrol cars for the first time. This program was accentuated in 1989 when six unmarked stealth units with HAWK radar sets were deployed throughout the Land of Enchantment. These cars varied in color and had red lights mounted on the front push bumpers and rear window parcel shelf.

In 1990, six 5 liter Ford Mustangs were purchased for patrol. These programs were phased out by 1993, with the last Mustang sent out to pasture.

Today, the authorized officer strength is over 500 and the NMSP employ over 490 civilian employees in various capacities. The agency is responsible for coordinating all search and rescue operations in the state, narcotics & criminal investigations, as well as traffic enforcement, and a whole host of other specialized operations.



License Plates of the New Mexico State Police

With the formation of the New Mexico Motor Patrol in 1933, nine motorcycles were used for patrol, but it is unknown if any patrol cars made-up any of the NMMP fleet at that time.
The earliest known license plate usage for the state enforcement agency is the 1938 New Mexico OFFICIAL license plate shown in the photo below (provided by Sgt. Ron Taylor-NMSP) bearing number 490. This photo was taken in the third year of the New Mexico State Police's existence. The plate measured 5 7/8" x 13 3/8" and made of embossed steel with a total of eight mounting holes: four small round ones in each far corner and four larger oblong ones (two on the top and two on the bottom). It had black characters painted over a deep yellow background that year. The title OFFICIAL was embossed at the top center between the upper oblong mounting holes and NEW MEXICO embossed at the bottom center between the lower oblong mounting holes. The assignment number was flanked on each side by a zia sun symbol with 38 embossed in the center circle.
As these OFFICIAL plates mirrored the contemporary passenger license plates of the day as far as size, format and color, it can be assumed that the following color schemes were used on OFFICIAL license plates used by the NMSP prior to 1938:
1935: White over dark blue
1936: Dark blue over white
1937: Cherry red over robin's egg blue.
1938: Black over deep yellow

The following year saw the launch of the NMSP's first agency-specific license plates.

New Mexico license plate image



Titled and agency-specific license plates for the New Mexico State Police were launched in 1939. The plates used the same embossed steel 5 7/8" x 13 3/8" construction as the previous OFFICIAL plates, however the title STATE POLICE now occupied the top center of the plate with the state name in full still occupying the bottom center.
An assignment number up to two digits occupied the center of the plate and was flanked on each side by an embossed zia sun symbol, however this time with no year designation in the center circle: it was left blank, perhaps to indicate a multi-year usage.
Although there is no solid confirmation, it is believed that the plates were painted in the black over yellow-orange color scheme used on other NM license plates that year.
These plates were used through the end of 1940.

  • New Mexico license plate image1939-1940 issue. Embossed steel. Approx. 5 7/8" x 13 3/8"
    Black over yellow-orange. No year designation in center circle of zia sun symbols.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • New Mexico license plate image(Courtesy Ron Taylor)
  • New Mexico license plate image1942-1943 issue. Embossed steel. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2"
    Black over white. Chief of NMSP.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image1947 issue. Embossed aluminum. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2"
    Deep yellow over burnt red.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image1948 issue. Embossed aluminum. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2"
    Elimination of the oblong mounting holes.
    White over blue-grey.
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image1952 issue. Embossed steel. Approx. 6" x 13 1/2"
    First year for only two upper and two lower mounting holes.
    Reflective red over white.
  • looking image

In 1953, the New Mexico State Police went to an undated multi-year license plate. It is not known what the color scheme was (possibly medium blue over white) as the only surviving record of their usage are black and white photographs from the time period leading into 1956 when the size standard changed.
The plates appear to be embossed steel and measuring approximately 5 7/8" x 13 3/8". Dark characters over a light background. STATE POLICE once again at top center, NEW MEXICO along the bottom center, the assignment number in the center of the plate, however only a single zia sun symbol flanking the left side of the assignment number. There was no year designation anywhere on the plate.


New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image

  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image

1956 was the year of the continental size standard of 6" x 12" for passenger car license plates. It is believed to be in that year, that the New Mexico State Police continued its use of multi-year undated license plates for the marked fleet.
The plates were made of embossed steel and painted black over reflective white. STATE POLICE was embossed between the upper mounting holes and NEW MEXICO was embossed just slightly above the lower mounting holes. The assignment number up to 3 digits was embossed to the center or far right of the plate and the zia sun symbol was embossed to the left of the number.
It is not known for certain how long these plates were used, but believed to have been run until at least the late 1960's.


  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1956-58- Late 1960's issue. Embossed steel.
    Black over reflective white.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • looking image

New Mexico license plate image (Photo courtesy of Norman Rhoades)

Galvanized steel license plates were issued in New Mexico in 1965, so it is believed that around that time, NMSP license plates were issued using that material however this time using a distinctive maroon over reflective turquoise color scheme. The layout was otherwise exactly the same as the previous issue.
These plates were used by the NMSP for over a decade, and many that can be found today are rather weather-beaten.

  • New Mexico license plate imageMid-1960's- Mid 1970's issue. Embossed galvanized steel.
    Maroon over reflective turquoise.

    (Courtesy Bill Johnston- Photo at right courtesy Ron Taylor also seen in photo)
  • New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image Photo Courtesy Ron Taylor


In 1969, New Mexico license plates began using the title NEW MEXICO USA embossed in smaller dies between the lower mounting holes on its license plates. NMSP license plates began using that format the same year on the maroon over reflective turquoise color scheme right through to late 1975. Positioning of the zias varied from production to production.

  • New Mexico license plate image1969-1975 issue. Embossed galvanized steel.
    NEW MEXICO USA along bottom.
    Maroon over reflective turquoise.
    Chief of NMSP.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image1969-1975 issue. Embossed galvanized steel.
    NEW MEXICO USA along bottom.
    Maroon over reflective turquoise.
    Brighter shade of turquoise used on this base.
  • looking image

With the onset of America's Bicentennial fast approaching, it was in 1975 that the New Mexico State Police decided to develop and launch a graphic commemorative license plate to recognize the upcoming 200th Anniversary of the nation in 1976.
The coloring of the plate remained true to the maroon or "burnt red" characters over a reflective turquoise background. The title STATE POLICE at the top center of the plate and NEW MEXICO at the bottom center of the plate this time were silkscreened instead of embossed. Only the assignment number up to three digits in the right field of the plate and the border of the plate were embossed. The plate was made distinctive by the application of a large zia sun symbol decal in white, red and yellow. The top two sections of the zia sun symbol had the inscription NEW MEXICO and STATE POLICE. The bottom sections were inscribed with BICENTENNIAL and 1776-1976. In the yellow center circle of the emblem was the depiction of the native yucca plant done in green.
These plates proved to be very popular with both New Mexico State Police personnel as well as the public in general.
The 350 sets of license plates were made by the 3M company and were donated to the NMSP for use on their marked vehicles.
It is believed that numbers 1 through 40 were assigned to senior command staff, 41 through 60 for Lieutenants, 61 to 100 for Sergeants, and 101 onward for the remainder of the force.
These plates were used in the NMSP fleet well into 1989 when the last of them were retired.




New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image1975-1989 Bicentennial issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Zia sun symbol is an applied decal and not silkscreened.
    Plates were donated by 3M Company for use on marked vehicles of the NMSP.
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image1975-1989 Bicentennial issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Zia sun symbol is an applied decal and not silkscreened.
    Plates were donated by 3M Company for use on marked vehicles of the NMSP.
  • New Mexico license plate imageCourtesy Norman Rhoades
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image

Around 1979, some of the Bicentennial license plates that were donated by the 3M company began to really show some wear and at the same time, the size of the NMSP fleet was increasing. As a result, the NMSP began to issue a new style of plate made in New Mexico. The plates were made of embossed aluminum with a stylized step-border which had an expanded recessed are at the top center of the plate. The maroon over reflective turquoise color scheme continued. The assignment number was once again embossed to the right center of the plate preceded by an embossed zia sun symbol. Below this was the embossed slogan LAND OF ENCHANTMENT over NEW MEXICO embossed between the lower mounting holes. The bottom right corner of the plate has a recessed validation decal navel which was never used by NMSP. The title STATE over POLICE was silkscreened in maroon at the far left center of the plate. This silkscreened title varied in font size and style over the next several years.
In 1983, the same plate was used but with 83 embossed in the lower left corner of the plate.
These plates were used until approximately 1988.


  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1979-1988 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Rectangular validation decal navel in bottom right corner.
    STATE POLICE silkscreened.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1979-1988 issue. Different style font for STATE POLICE
    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)


In the late 1980's, two different layouts on the same base plate were introduced to the NMSP fleet, and I currently have no idea which one came first. Both were struck using the 1988 base format which had a larger recessed area where a validation decal would normally go in the bottom right corner.
The fully-embossed version used the maroon over reflective turquoise color scheme. A stacked SP prefix was embossed to the left of an embossed zia sun symbol followed by a number up to three digits and using a lead-zero for numbers under 100. STATE POLICE was embossed over NEW MEXICO which was embossed between the lower mounting holes.
The second version which was a partially-silkscreened version also was colored in maroon over reflective turquoise. The number up to three digits was embossed but flanked by TWO embossed zia sun symbols on either end of the number. The title STATE POLICE over NEW MEXICO was in the same portion of the plate as with the other issue, however these titles were silkscreened instead of embossed.
This second type is not well-documented, and perhaps the examples known of this type may have only been test samples, as no period photos obtained to this point show them in actual use.
These plates were used until 1993.

  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1988-1993 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Stacked SP prefix with embossed STATE POLICE over NEW MEXICO
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate imageLate 1980's-1993 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Assignment number flanked by embossed zia sun symbols on either side.
    STATE POLICE over NEW MEXICO silkscreened.
    Not a well-documented type. Possibly test design sample.
    NEED CONFIRMATION
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1980's-1990's Test Sample.
    Embossed aluminum. Maroon over reflective turquoise.
    Never issued.
  • looking image


In 1993, something strange happened. The NMSP dropped the distinctive maroon over reflective turquoise color scheme they had used for over 25 years and went to a black over reflective white version. Not only that, but the license plates were made in Texas using Texas dies for the numerals! The plates were embossed aluminum and had a black silkscreened border over the reflective white background. STATE POLICE was silkscreened at the top center of the plate and New Mexico USA was silkscreened along the bottom center of the plate just above the mounting holes.
This plate proved unpopular with many NMSP personnel, and the plate was discontinued in 2000.


  • New Mexico license plate image1993-2000 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over reflective white.
    Plates were made in Texas for reasons unknown.
  • New Mexico license plate image


With the introduction of the new millenium, the NMSP decided to redeem themselves with the unveiling of a distinctive and tasteful graphic license plate for their marked vehicles. Known as "the badge plate", this embossed aluminum plate utilized a black over reflective tan color scheme. The background field of the plate graduated from black to tan to black along the horizontal plain. A large crisp graphic of the NMSP eagle-topped badge over the twin diagonal white stripes as traditionally used for the door graphics occupied the left portion of the plate. A number up to three digits was embossed in black to the right. The motto PRO BONO PUBLICO (For the Good of the Public) was silkscreened in tan-trimmed black at the top center of the plate. NEW MEXICO USA was silkscreened in black-trimmed tan along the bottom center of the plate.
This highly-popular plate is still in use today.


  • New Mexico license plate image2000-Current issue. Embossed aluminum.
    "Badge plate" graphic.
  • New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image

New Mexico license plate image

In the Summer of 2017. the New Mexico State Police decided to replace their popular "badge plates" that had been around since 2000 with a new design featuring the classic NMSP shoulder emblem.
The new plates were produced on a standard New Mexico embossed aluminum blank that features a decal "navel" recess in the bottom right hand corner. The background color is black trimmed in white along the the border line. STATE POLICE is silkscreened in gold at the top center and NEW MEXICO USA is silkscreened in gold at the bottom center. The assignment number is embossed and painted gold, and the full silkscreened shoulder patch emblem is featured on the left side between the upper and lower left mounting holes. It was stated that the NMSP allowed troopers to keep their outgoing 2000 series license plates should they so choose. This information courtesy of Agent Norman Rhoades of the NMSP.

  • New Mexico license plate image2017-Current issue. Embossed aluminum.
    "Patch plate" in Black, gold and white.

    (Courtesy Norman Rhoades)
  • New Mexico license plate image



Motorcycle License plates of the New Mexico State Police

As stated in the introduction, the earliest motorized vehicles of the NMSP were motorcycles. The license plates used on NMSP motorcycles usually reflected the color scheme used concurrent with passenger car license plates of the day.
The known types are listed below. It is unknown if new plates were issued every year between 1941 and 1947, but if they did, they would have likely followed the same format as seen below and used the following color schemes:
1942: (Validation decal year-no plate)
1943: White over black
1944: Black over white
1945: White over blue
1946: Dark red over deep yellow

It is believed that the NMSP phased-out the motorcycle from the fleet in 1948 before its re-introduction in 2002.

  • New Mexico license plate image1940 motorcycle issue. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" with inverted border.
    Yellow over red.
    N.M. prefix, square dash followed by up to two numbers.
    (40 painted above dash on this example)
    (Courtesy Bill Johnston)
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image1941 motorcycle issue. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" with inverted border.
    Red over yellow.
    N.M. prefix, square dash followed by up to two numbers.
    (Courtesy Bill Johnston)
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image1947 motorcycle issue. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" with inverted border.
    Yellow over burnt red.
    N.M. prefix, square dash followed by up to two numbers.
    (Courtesy Bill Johnston)
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • New Mexico license plate image
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate imageSTATE POLICE title plate on sidecar
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate imageModern BMW motorcycle for NMSP
  • New Mexico license plate image2002-current motorcycle issue.
    Embossed aluminum. Black over reflective tan.
    NMSP badge graphic with number in 900 series prefixed by SP stacked at left.
    (Courtesy Captain Pat Werick- NMSP)
  • New Mexico license plate image(Courtesy Norman Rhoades)



Specialty Issues

Some specialty issues have been made for NMSP personnel and supporters over the years that are not for official use. These are some examples.

  • New Mexico license plate imageNMSP Brotherhood Association Booster plate.
    Embossed metal in NMSP colors.

    (Courtesy Robert Trippeer)
  • New Mexico license plate image2002 National Troopers Coalition souvenir license plate. Hosted that year by New Mexico State Police Association.
  • New Mexico license plate imageUnknown year-- National Troopers Coalition souvenir license plate. Embossed aluminum.
  • New Mexico license plate imageUnknown year-- National Troopers Coalition souvenir license plate. Platic with recessed lettering for TROOPER.

    (Courtesy Bob Bruce)
  • New Mexico license plate image2009-current. NMSP Retiree.
    These plates were launched for use by NMSP personnel who retired from the agency in good standing. For use on personal vehicles and to be validated annually as with any regular civilian license plate.
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate imageUnusual vacuum-formed plastic license plate for some type of Citizen Award. Not certain of its use or age.
  • looking image
  • New Mexico license plate imageCirca 1970's NMSP/Optimist International "Citizen Award".
    Embossed galvanized steel. Blue over White.

    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • looking image



New Mexico Motor Transportation Police

New Mexico logoMTP is a division of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. With complete statewide law enforcement jurisdiction. Their mission is to promote safety on New Mexico highways by providing law enforcement traffic services to the motoring public, to ensure the safe and legal operation of commercial motor vehicles and to prevent the introduction of illicit contraband into New Mexico while facilitating trade.”

This mission is accomplished by enforcing the State Criminal Code, Motor Transportation Act, Motor Vehicle Code and federal/state commercial motor vehicle safety regulations as adopted by the New Mexico Administrative Code. The division also conducts enhanced radiological inspections on all Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) shipments originating or entering the state, as well as, route control of hazardous material shipments.

License plates used by the NMMTD these days are graphic agency-specific license plates using an expanded red zia sun symbol as its trademark.
Previous issues are not known, so any help in this regard with info or photos would be much appreciated.

  • New Mexico license plate imageCurrent use NMMTD issue. Possibly in use since 2000 when the NMSP re-plated with graphic agency-specific license plates.

    (Courtesy Nick Kanaya)
  • looking image

New Mexico license plate image



Gallery