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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 very early 1970'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.



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.


  • Arizona license plate image1929 Arizona State Highway Department - Embossed steel-Approx. 6 1/4" x 14". Yellow over black.
    Unlikely used for highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves to be showcased here
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  • Arizona license plate picture1929 Arizona State Highway Department TRAILER - Embossed steel-Approx. 6 1/4" x 14". Yellow over black. Unlikely used for highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves to be showcased here
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  • Arizona police license plate image1930 Arizona State Highway Department TRAILER- Embossed steel-Approx. 6 1/4" x 14". Black over grey.
    Unlikely used for highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves to be showcased here
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  • Arizona license plate image1930 Arizona State Highway Department TRAILER- Embossed steel-Approx. 6 1/4" x 14". Black over grey.
    Unlikely used for highway patrol duties, but the rarity of this plate deserves to be showcased here
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  • Arizona license plate image1933 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed and debossed copper-Approx 5 1/2" x 10 1/4".
    Black over copper.
    Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.
  • Arizona police car image
  • Arizona license plate picture1934 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed and debossed copper-Approx 5 1/2" x 10 1/4".
    Turquoise over copper.
    Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.
    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
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  • Arizona license plate picture1935 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed steel--Approx 5 1/2" x 10 1/4". Black over copper.
    Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1936 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5 1/2" x 13". REPAINTED IN WRONG COLORS
    Should be black characters over copper background.
    Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1937 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5 1/2" x 13". Black over copper.
    Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.

    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
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  • Arizona license plate picture1938 Arizona State Highway Department.
    Embossed steel--Approx 5 1/2" x 10 1/4". Black over yellow. Type used by Highway Patrol however likely bearing a one to two digit number.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1939 Arizona Highway Department.
    Embossed steel- Approx. 5 3/4"x 13". Black over copper. 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.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1940 Arizona State Highway Department.
    Embossed steel- Approx. 6 1/4" x 12" Blue over white.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1948 Arizona State Highway Department-Embossed aluminum-Approx. 6"x13". Black over aluminum.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1949 Arizona Highway Patrol Ford with Highway Department plate number 290. Photo courtesy of Tom Sheehy.
  • Arizona license plate picture1949 Arizona State Highway Department- Embossed aluminum- Approx. 6"x13". Green over aluminum.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1952 Arizona State Highway Department.
    Embossed steel- Approx. 6"x13". White over black.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
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Arizona police officers with cars picture

Circa 1954-Revolver Competition with New Mexico State Police- AZHP Patrol car at far left bearing plate # 95.

  • Arizona license plate picture1956 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed steel- Standard 6"x12" White over black.
    Type used by Highway Patrol.

    (Courtesy of John Yeaw)
  • Arizona license plate on car picturePhoto courtesy of Paul Swietek
  • Arizona license plate picture1959 Arizona State Highway Department. Embossed steel. Black over white
    Type used by Highway Patrol.
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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 reflective orange. The state name was embossed along the top between the upper mounting holes. Below that was the registration number commencing with the prefix AZ followed by a dash and four numbers ranging from 1000 to 4900. Along the bottom of the plate was embossed DEPT.PUBLIC SAFETY. 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 blazing Arizona sun over a long period of time.

  • Arizona license plate picture1971-1986 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Black over reflective orange. First DPS issue.
  • Arizona license plate picturePhoto courtesy of Paul Swietek
  • Arizona plocie car image

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 removed 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!)

  • Arizona license plate picture1986 3M experimental issue- Embossed aluminum. Blue over reflective white. Used on only 200 of the 700 AZHP vehicles 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".
  • Arizona license plate picture1986 Ford Mustang SSP bearing AZHP experimental plate number AZ-539?

    (Courtesy of Monty McCord)



Arizona licence plates with 3d print

Close-up showing badge holograms running down center of plate.

  • Arizona license plate picture1986 announcement of new Arizona DPS license plates in issue of ALPCA newsletter.
    The reason why the type of die was "not seen in Arizona before" was that it was the die type used by the private company 3M
  • Arizona license plate picture 1986 3M experimental issue with all 5's.
    Used and intact (no post-project vertical cut).


    (Courtesy Bob Bruce)
  • Arizona license plate image1986 3M experimental issue TEST PROTOTYPE.
    This is the "model" proposal 3M made for consideration by the Arizona DPS utilizing standard 3-alpha-3-numeric layout.

    (Courtesy Mike Doucette)
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Also in 1986, non-graphic Arizona DPS plates continued to be used on AHP patrol vehicles but painted reflective chrome yellow over brown. This color combination was developed to be more resistant to sun-fade than the previous black over reflective orange base plates. The plate format was otherwise identical to the 1971 version and the assigned numbers ranged from the AZ 5000's to the AZ 7000's. These plates were used concurrent to the 3M graphic license plate experiment conducted that year.

  • Arizona license plate pictureLate 1986-1990's issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Reflective Chrome yellow over flat brown.
    Type used concurrent with experimental graphic plates.
  • Arizona license plate picture
  • Arizona police car rear view
  • Arizona police car picture(Courtesy of Jay Weinstein )
  • Arizona police car pictureMarked Camaro patrol car with plate # AZ-5766



Arizona police cars image

It was decided in 1988 to continue with the durable chrome yellow over brown plates that were still used during the same time period as the 3M experimental graphic 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-###@@.


  • Arizona license plate picture1987-1996 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Reflective chrome yellow over flat brown.
    STATE VEHICLE embossed along bottom.
  • Arizona police car picture
  • Arizona license plate picture1987-1996 issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Reflective chrome yellow over flat brown.
    GOVERNMENT embossed along bottom.
  • Arizona police car pictureNote use of STATE PATROL on the deck lid of this marked Ford Taurus SHO


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.

  • Arizona license plate picture1996-Current issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Green over reflective white, green, yellow and purple.
  • Arizona police car picture
  • Arizona license plate picture1996-Current issue. Embossed aluminum.
    Green over reflective white, green, yellow and purple.
    Has MONTH and YEAR box outlines in top corners.

    (Courtesy Jason DeCesare)
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  • Arizona police car
  • Arizona police car picture
  • Arizona police car picture

Arizona police car image 2011 issue-Embossed characters replaced by flat all-screened characters

Arizona police car image


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.

  • Arizona license plate pictureEarly State Flag issue. Aluminum with embossed border. Painted maroon on reverse side
  • Arizona police officers and car pictureLarger view of this photo available in Gallery below
  • Arizona police officer and car image
  • Arizona police car pictureLate 1970's-early 1980's 55 MPH front plate.
    Screen-painted dark blue and red over white.
    Painted blue on backside. Thin metal.
  • Arizona police car pictureLate 1970's/Early 1980's 55 MPH marker.
  • Arizona license plate image State Flag with 55 MPH in white. Flat screened plastic.
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  • Arizona police car image
  • Arizona license plate picture Later State Flag issue with longer mounting slots.
    Flat aluminum.
  • Arizona police car picture
  • Arizona license plate pictureCirca 2008 issue with DPS Badge Image.
    Unsure if this plate is metallic or plastic at this time.
  • Arizona police car picture
  • Arizona license plate picture2011 issue. All reflective titled State Flag.
    Believed to be aluminum with embossed step border.

    (Courtesy Paul Swietek)
  • Arizona police car picture(Courtesy Paul Swietek)
  • Arizona license plate picture1993 National Troopers Coalition/Arizona Highway Patrol Association Souvenir.
    Embossed aluminum. Black over copper.

    (Courtesy Bill Ceravola)
  • Arizona police car picture1994 25th Anniversary Booster.
    Embossed aluminum. Gold over blue.

    (Courtesy Mike Crosby)




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 and Louisiana State Police. The plate award program was split into 2 facets. The first ACE award plate was a plain flat white license plate. The AHP officer who would recover a stolen vehicle and arrest the car thief, would get a blue lightning bolt decal to affix to the plate which was displayed only on the front of the patrol car. Up to five 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. The later ones were silkscreened as were the actual "bolt plates". 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.

  • Arizona ACE police plates imageBelieved to be earlier issue- Flat white aluminum with adhesive dark blue lightning bolts.
    Long mounting slots as opposed to ovals or circular holes.
    Four bolts indicating four stolen vehicle recoveries/arrests.
  • Arizona ACE police plates imageBelieved to be earlier issue- Flat white aluminum with adhesive dark blue lightning bolts.
    Long mounting slots as opposed to ovals or circular holes.
    Five bolts indicating five stolen vehicle recoveries/arrests- Qualifier for full ACE award.
  • Arizona ACE police plates imageEarlier full ACE Award plate. Embossed aluminum with painted embossed border and small oval mounting holes.
    Minimum five recovered stolen vehicles/arrests
  • Arizona ACE police plates imageBelieved to be later issue- Flat reflective white aluminum with screened dark blue lightning bolts and border.
    Small oval mounting slots as opposed to long ovals or circular holes.
    Four bolts indicating four stolen vehicle recoveries/arrests.
  • Arizona ACE police plates imageLater issue- All screened entirely flat reflective aluminum-
    This example has a decal on the reverse side which reads: Mar 23 1988
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Motorcycle License Plates used by Arizona DPS

The information on motorcycle use by the Arizona Highway Patrol since its inception is very 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.

  • Arizona license plate picture1958 issue. State Motorcycle. Embossed steel.
    Approx 3 3/8"x 7 1/8"- White over Black
  • Arizona license plate picture1958 issue. State Motorcycle. Embossed steel.
    Approx 3 3/8"x 7 1/8"- Black over White
  • Arizona license plate picture1972 (?) issue. State Motorcycle. Embossed aluminum.
    Approx 3 3/8" x 7 1/8"- Blue over Reflective yellow.
  • Arizona police officer on motorcycle pictureMoto Guzzi
  • Arizona license plate pictureCirca 1981-1992 issue. State Motorcycle.
    Embossed aluminum.
    Approx 3/3/8" x 7 1/8"- Chrome yellow over flat brown.
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  • Arizona license plate picture1992-current issue. State Motorcycle.
    Embossed aluminum.
  • Arizona police motorcycle picture
  • Arizona license plate pictureCirca 2015-current issue. State motorcycle.
    Silkscreened aluminum.

    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • Arizona license plate picture


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