arkansas banner image
gallery of police cars

On August 14, 1929, the California Highway Patrol was created. The new law gave Statewide authority to the Highway Patrol to enforce traffic laws on county and State highways — a responsibility which remains in effect today. The primary mission of the California Highway Patrol is "the management and regulation of traffic to achieve safe, lawful, and efficient use of the highway transportation system." As a major statewide law enforcement agency, the secondary mission of the Department is to assist in emergencies exceeding local capabilities.

The CHP also provides disaster and lifesaving assistance. During its first ten years, the Patrol successfully grew into a highly respected, effective traffic safety force of 730 uniformed personnel. After World War II, the legislature decided to consolidate and reorganize the Patrol's enforcement and administrative responsibilities. In October 1947, the Department of the California Highway Patrol was established and the position of commissioner was created to head the new Department.

The span of enforcement responsibility has expanded dramatically and the CHP has continued to grow and change. Today's responsibilities include truck and bus inspections, air operations (both airplanes and helicopters) and vehicle theft investigation and prevention. The 1995 merger with the California State Police also increased the areas of responsibility to include protection of state property and employees, the Governor and other dignitaries. In addition to its enforcement responsibilities, the Department has taken a leadership role in educating the public concerning driver safety issues.

The CHP has received state and national recognition for its innovative public awareness campaigns promoting use of safety belts, a Designated Driver when drinking, securing small children in safety seats and wearing motorcycle and bicycle helmets.




License Plates of the California Highway Patrol

Prior to the formation of the California Highway Patrol in 1929, state traffic law enforcement was handled by Inspectors of the California Motor Vehicle Department. From 1917 to 1921, these patrol officers were assigned the task of enforcing highway traffic conduct and equipment laws in the Golden State. A snag occurred with a 1923 court ruling which decreed that county traffic officers could not enforce state traffic laws. This necessitated state-appointed traffic officers for each county in California, but supervised by DMV Inspectors and Deputy Inspectors who were not restricted by county lines.

There is no clear photographic evidence or written record that clarifies what type of plates the California Motor Vehicle Department Inspectors ran on their cars at the time. There is, however a 1923 promotional photo for a wheel-siren company that shows a "bathing beauty" wearing a California MVD Inspector's hat, badge and riding gloves standing next to a patrol motorcycle bearing a 1923 state exempt (Diamond E) motorcycle license plate # 39. Therefore it can be surmised that MVD Inspectors ran California State Exempt license plates on their patrol cars as well at that time.

California has perhaps had the longest and most consistent formatting of such state vehicle identifiers anywhere in the U.S. as the "Diamond E" plates were run for over 80 years on state vehicles including those of the California Highway Patrol from 1916 until 1997.

These plates emulated the color and format of regular state passenger license plates of the given years. They have also been consistently run front-and-rear since the beginning.


The earliest versions were porcelain enameled steel plates measuring 4.5" x 13". The colors were blue characters over a white background. Four mounting holes were provided lined with brass grommets to prevent chipping of the porcelain when fastened to the vehicle. A year tab was affixed above the abbreviation CAL along the left margin of the plate, followed by the <E>and a number up to 4 digits. The years for the plates from 1916 to 1919 were validated by tab attachments with the corresponding registration number engraved upon the device made of the following designs/ material:
1916: Walking bear profile made of lead (# <E> 316, 635 and 2768 confirmed for 1916)
1917: A yellow painted embossed lead poppy
1918: A green painted embossed lead mission bell
1919: A red painted metal embossed star

  • California license plate image1915 EMERGENCY issue- Porcelain enamel over steel.
    Approx. 5 1/2" x 16". Black over yellow.
    Issued for any Emergency Services vehicles including fire apparatus and ambulances.
    Diamond E license plates for state exempt vehicles are said to have begun in 1915, but as no car-sized specimen is known, the EMERGENCY issue is in place to represent the year.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1916 issue- Porcelain enamel over steel.
    Approx. 4 5/8" x 13". Blue over white.
    Validated by lead bear tab which usually bore the corresponding engraved registration number and the year 1916.
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1918 issue- Porcelain enamel over steel.
    Approx. 4 5/8" x 13". Blue over white.
    Validated by a green mission bell tab which usually bore the corresponding engraved registration number and the year 1918.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1919 issue- Porcelain enamel over steel.
    Approx. 4 5/8" x 1". Blue over white.
    Validated by red tin star tab which usually bore the corresponding engraved registration number and the year 1919.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1920 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". White over black.
    Number up to four digits

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1921 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". Black over white.
    Number up to four digits

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1922 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". Blue over white.
    Number up to four digits.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1923 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". White over black.
    Number up to four digits.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1924 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". White over green.
    Number up to four digits.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1925 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". Black over yellow.
    Number up to four digits.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1926 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". White over blue.
    Number up to four digits.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1927 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 7/8" x 13 7/8". White over maroon.
    Number up to four digits.
    First time CALIFORNIA spelled-out in full on the state's license plates.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1928 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5" x 13 7/8". Orange over blue.
    Number up to four digits.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image 1929 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Orange over black.
    Not only was 1929 the inaugural year for the CHP, but also the inaugural year in California for these larger embossed steel license plates with debossed borders and eight mounting holes which lasted until 1940.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1930 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Black over orange. Issued to and used by Ptlm Larry Grissom of Eureka. Ptlm Grissom was one of the first patrol officers hired by the newly-formed California Highway Patrol.
  • California license plate image1930 CHP Dodge
  • California license plate image
  • California license plate image1931 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Bright orange over black. Issued to and used by Ptlm Larry Grissom of Eureka. Ptlm Grissom was one of the first patrol officers hired by the newly-formed California Highway Patrol.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1932 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Black over orange. Issued to and used by Ptlm Larry Grissom of Eureka. Ptlm Grissom was one of the first patrol officers hired by the newly-formed California Highway Patrol.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1933 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6 1/8" x 14". Bright orange over black.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1934 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Black over orange.
  • California police car image
  • California license plate imageSame format as 1934 issue showing both orange characters and yellow as were used in 1935.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1936 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6 1/8" x 14". Black over orange.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • California license plate image
  • California license plate image1937 issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 6 1/8" x 14".
    Yellow over black.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1938-1940 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 14". Black over yellow-orange. Undated.
    Many CHP plates were issued in the 6600-6900 number blocs.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California police car image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1940-1946 issue- Embossed steel and embossed aluminum. Approx. 6 1/8" x 13 7/8" with rounded corners.
    Black over yellow-orange. Undated.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California police car image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1947 issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 6 1/8" x 13 7/8" with rounded corners.
    Black over yellow-orange. Dated.
    Possibly a multi-year plate used until the end of 1950.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1951-1956 issue- Embossed steel and embossed aluminum. Approx. 6 1/8" x 13 7/8" with rounded corners.
    Eight mounting holes.
    Yellow-orange over black.
  • California police car image

California police car image

1956 saw the experimentation of a new technology in the state to make license plates more visible in low-light conditions. Crushed glass bead material was added to the surface paint of the galvanized steel license plates and used to test the reflective properties of the background of the plate as a measure for added traffic safety. CHP patrol vehicles were chosen for this experiment as these vehicles had the most continuous exposure to the elements and other wear-and-tear than any other state vehicle in the fleet.
The experiment must not have been too successful as California did not opt for reflective license plates until 26 years later!
Later versions of the 1956-1963 plate used flat painted backgrounds and were made of aluminum with a registration number using six numbers.

  • California license plate image1956-1963 issue-Embossed galvanized steel. 6" X 12".
    Black over yellow.
    Early type which used experimental Flex-O-Lite coating made of crushed glass bead for reflectivity in low-light conditions.
    Used only on CHP vehicles.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1956-1963 issue-Embossed galvanized steel and embossed aluminum. Black over yellow-orange.
    Later type with non-reflective paint and higher numbers.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • California police car image1962 CHP Chrysler
  • California license plate image1963-1969 issue-Embossed steel. Chrome yellow over black. Number up to 6 digits
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1969-1982 issue-Embossed steel. Chrome yellow over blue. Steel phased-out for aluminum around 1975
  • looking image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1975-1982 issue-Embossed aluminum.
    Chrome yellow over blue.
  • California police car image

California police car image

This is how to visually differentiate between the older steel version and the later aluminum version of the 1969-1982 "blue plates". The steel version has a much "tighter" state name while the aluminum version is more spread-out.



California police car image
  • California license plate image 1978 CHP Dodge. Plate # 849133
  • California license plate image 1978 CHP Dodge Slicktop
  • California police car image
  • California police car image1980 CHP Dodge Aspen
  • California police car imageLate 1980's CHP Ford (Commercial Vehicle Enforcement) still using older blue plate.
  • California license plate image1982-1987 issue- Embossed aluminum. Dark blue numerals over reflective white, with red and yellow silk-screen.
    These plates were made until August of 1987.
    First graphic issue.
  • California police car image SSP Mustang
  • California police car image
  • California police car imageDiamond E state exempt license plates were also used on the vehicles of the now-defunct California State Police.
    Photo courtesy of Darryl Lindsay
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1987-1994 issue-Embossed aluminum.
    State name painted red, numerals in dark blue.
    No graphics and no "sticker navels".
    Known as Generic Issue.
  • California police car image SSP Mustang
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image
  • California police car image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1994-1997 issue- Embossed aluminum.
    Dark Blue over reflective white with red.
    Known as the "Lipstick" base due to the red font style used for the state name.
  • California police car image Slicktop CHP Volvo!
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image1997-Current issue. With CA EXEMPT silkscreened in red. When the California diamond E plates ran-up to number 999999, the state dropped the diamond E motif to allow for a seven digit number, thus breaking an 82 year old tradition.
    The Diamond E is missed by many.
  • California police car image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate image
  • California police car image
  • California police car image
  • California license plate imageMarked CHP Slicktop Dodge Charger
  • California police car image Unmarked CHP Slicktop Dodge Charger
  • California license plate imageCirca 1992 prototype for a silkscreened graphic California Highway Patrol license plate. CHP badge emblem silkscreened in gold, state name in red.
    Sadly, the idea never gained traction.

    (Courtesy of Nick Kanaya)
  • California police car image



Motorcycle License Plates used by California Highway Patrol

As with the "car sized" plates of the California Highway Patrol, motorcycle plates of the CHP were based on the same color and formatting as regular motorcycle license plates issued by the state with the exception of the <E> prefix for a state exempt motor vehicle. Again, if we are to surmise that California DMV Inspectors, the "pre-CHP" officers used state exempt plates on their motorcycles since the beginning, the following specimen types would have been used:

The earliest versions were porcelain enamelled steel plates measuring 3" x 10" and in a curved or concave format to fit over the rear fender of the motorcycle. Two mounting holes were provided with one at the top and one at the bottom of the plate. CAL was inscribed horizontally across the top of the plate over the <E> followed by a number and over two more numbers. The years for the plates from 1916 to 1919 were validated by tab attachments with the corresponding registration number engraved upon the device made of the following designs/ material:


1916: Walking bear profile made of lead
1917: A yellow painted embossed tin poppy
1918: A green painted embossed tin mission bell
1919: A red painted metal embossed star

California motorcycle license plates sported six mounting holes from 1920 until 1970.

  • California license plate image1915 motorcycle DEALER ISSUE-NOT EXEMPT
    Porcelain enamel over concaved steel.
    Solid diamond often mistaken for exempt.
    (Courtesy Eric Taylor)
  • California license plate image1919 motorcycle issue-Porcelain enamel over concaved steel.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler).
  • California license plate image1921 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4" x 7 1/4". Black over yellow

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California license plate image1931 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 4" x 7 1/4". Orange over black.
    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California license plate image1932 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 4" x 7 1/4". Black over orange.
    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California license plate image1933 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel. Approx. 4" x 7 1/4". Orange over black.
    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California license plate image1935 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 1/8" x 7 1/4". Orange over black.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1936 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 1/8" x 7 1/4". Black over yellow-orange.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • looking image
  • California license plate image
  • California license plate image1938-1940 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 1/8" x 7 1/4". Black over Lemon yellow.
    State name in full.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California police officers image
  • California license plate image1951-1955 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 1/8" x 7 1/4". Yellow-orange over black.
    State name in full.

    (Courtesy Rob Tyler)
  • California police officers image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California license plate image1956-1963 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 4 1/8" x 7 1/4". Black over yellow.

    (Courtesy John Yeaw)
  • looking image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California license plate image1963-1969 motorcycle issue- Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5" x 8". Chrome yellow over black.
    Earlier all-numeric issue.
    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • looking image
  • California police motorcycle image
    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • California license plate image1963-1969 motorcycle issue-Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5" x 8". Chrome yellow over black.

    (Courtesy of Rob Tyler)
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1969-circa 1982 motorcycle issue-Embossed steel.
    Approx. 5" x 8". Chrome yellow over blue
  • motorcycle california state trooper plateCourtesy Barry Maiten
  • California police motorcycle image
    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • California police plateOne of the most famed police license plates of all time: The 16A60 California State Exempt motorcycle license plate used on the back of John Baker's (played by Larry Wilcox) CHP motorcycle on the hit 1970's TV show "CHiPs".
    This plate could be seen clearly during the opening credits of the show.
    (Courtesy Nick Kanaya)
  • California license plate imageCirca 1980's embossed aluminum license plate bracket bearing radio call number for the California Highway Patrol.
    Info is that these were NOT issued by CHP for duty use.
    Mounting hole positioning is for the smaller 4" x 7" plate.
  • looking image
  • California license plate image1980's-Current motorcycle issue-Embossed aluminum. Approx. 4" x 7". Blue over reflective white
  • California license plate image
  • California police motorcycle image
  • California license plate imageCirca 2009-Current issue. Motorcycle.
    Generic Exempt issue commencing in 3000000 bloc.
    Used concurrent with previous state exempt issue.
    (Courtesy Tony Aleria)
  • California license plate image




Specialty Issues

These are a few specialty issues not for sanctioned use on duty.



  • California license plate imageNational Troopers Coalition souvenir license plate when the CHP hosted the annual NTC convention in San Diego. Embossed aluminum. Dark blue over reflective white with red.
  • looking image
  • California license plate imageOld CHP "MEMBER" license plate attachment for private vehicle. Looking for clearer image of this type.
  • looking image


Gallery