Chicago Police M-plate heads for a final roll call

February 26, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

The venerable "M-plate," the special municipal license plate bearing the prefix 'M'‚  that has been affixed to police cars for generations, is being slowly retired by the Chicago Police Department this year, according to a spokesman.

Its replacement? A new state-issued "MP" (for "Municipal Police") plate‚ similar to those now being used by other Illinois municipal police departments. Police spokesman Roderick Drew said the department this year began putting the new plates on the Chevy Tahoe SUVs that are being phased in to replace the aged Ford Crown Victoria as squad cars.

"It looks like as they get them in, they'll [equip] them with the new plates," he said.

Hundreds of non-law enforcement city vehicles bear the M-plate and would be unaffected by the change. But since at least the 1950s, the M plate-equipped squad car has been one of the more enduring, albeit minor, Chicago symbols. The 1980s TV show "Hill Street Blues" was supposed to have been set in an unnamed big city, but darn if millions of views see didn't see a rather Chicago-looking "Metro Police" car -- M-plate and all -- staring at them each week in the show's intro.

The plate makes an appearance in the intro of the late 1950s set-in-Chicago TV show "M Squad," starring pre-fame Lee Marvin as police detective Lt. Frank Ballinger. Makes me wonder if the plate inspired the name of the show also:

I'll skip "The Blues Brothers" cop car crash scenes in favor of this clip from the movie pilot of director Michael Mann's brilliant 1980s TV show "Crime Story." The opening scene begins with a close-up of an M-plate and goes on from there. (By the way, the restaurant in the scene, Jansen's,‚  is still on the southwest corner of 99th and Western)