I've noticed that the NYPD uses some sort of custom fleet license plate such as that seen below.

NYPD plate

I was able to find this reference that states:

No person shall operate, drive or park a motor vehicle on the public highways of this state unless such vehicle shall have a distinctive number assigned to it by the commissioner and a set of number plates issued by the commissioner [...]

As the license plate matches the identifier on the side of the vehicle, I'm guessing that this is an NYPD-created identifier (and an NYPD-created plate). Are these plates simply special ones issued by the commissioner? If not, how is this practice in accordance with state law?

  • 6
    What makes you so sure those plates aren't issued by the commissioner on request by the NYPD? The number being the same could just be that the NYPD requests the plate with the right number.
    – cpast
    Jun 10 '15 at 4:37
  • I'm not sure, that was meant to be part of my question. I guess that didn't quite come across; editing to include that specifically.
    – Ben
    Jun 10 '15 at 4:41
  • 1
    This is not really a question of the law then.
    – Chad
    Jun 10 '15 at 17:20
  • Okay, suppose they are not "issued by the commissioner." That's something that can be determined externally. The legal crux of my question is, should it be the case that they are not officially issued license plates, is the practice simply illegal, or are there exceptions elsewhere that would permit this for police or other vehicles?
    – Ben
    Jun 11 '15 at 2:20

In New York State, vehicle registration requirements (including the requirement to display license plates) are under Title IV of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Title IV refers to "motor vehicles." However, Section 125 of the law, which defines "motor vehicle" for the purposes of the law, states that:

Every vehicle operated or driven upon a public highway which is propelled by any power other than muscular power [...]. For the purposes of title four of this chapter, the term motor vehicle shall exclude fire and police vehicles other than ambulances. [...]

Fire and police vehicles in New York State are exempt from registration requirements, including the requirement to have a license plate. They can use license-plate-esque designs, and I believe they can get normal local government plates, but they do not have to.

EDIT: Also, I just remembered the NYPD operates at least one ambulance. Per that section, one would expect the ambulance to use a state-issued license plate, not the NYPD fleet plates. And this is, in fact, the case:


  • 1
    Thank you for this great answer. You've confirmed that, whether or not the specific plates they use are "issued by the commissioner" (which is a question of technicality rather than one of law), the plates are legal since they are not required to have plates at all.
    – Ben
    Jun 15 '15 at 0:09

The question, as written, doesn't make much sense.

The commissioner of motor vehicles is authorized to issue number plates, and the law and/or regulations specifically reference the issuance of plates to state and municipal vehicles, which would include the NYPD.

In other words: the people responsible for writing and carrying out the law have thought of this, and created a system specifically designed to deal with it. It makes no sense to assume they aren't following it.

It doesn't really make sense, either, to say, "what if they didn't?" That is, what if the NYPD suddenly decided, one day, to stop filling out the requisition forms they're filling out now to get new license plates, and just draw their own on with a Sharpie. That's not how municipal services operate. If the guy in the motor pool tried it, his boss would fire him. If his boss tried it, the commissioner would fire him. If the commissioner tried it, the mayor would fire him. If the mayor tried it, the people would fire him. It simply would not get to the point where the state would have to sue--at which point a judge would order the NYPD to comply with state law, probably in short order.

  • 2
    Actually, they don't get issued license plates by the state (as I just discovered by looking deeper). See my answer.
    – cpast
    Jun 13 '15 at 17:30

NYPD does have a fleet registered with NYC. They match the car number to the plates and assign them to an officer who logs it in and out in a log book or computer. If they didn't have authority to use the fleet style plates they'd have no rear identifying marks making it easy to be crooked and run off. NYPD had the courtesy to let us be able to ID the car involved in anything they do. I'm glad they actually have something instead of nothing.

  • Also the cars do maintain inspection and insurance thru nypd and the city... thats why negative incident involving cop cars n pedestrian settle pretty fast
    – jsule
    Oct 28 '15 at 17:44
  • They could also just paint the car's vehicle number on the back of the trunk lid, though. They don't need the plates to enable us to identify their vehicles.
    – phoog
    Dec 26 '15 at 5:31

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