Law enforcement organizational license plates are restricted but not by the state

A woman who led police on a chase after hitting two officers drove a car with Fraternal Order of Police tags

  • Baltimore Co. Police investigate the crime scene after a chase that began in Baltimore City.
Baltimore Co. Police investigate the crime scene after a chase… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
January 12, 2013|By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

An interesting detail emerged after a gray Chevy Cobalt hit two Baltimore police officers Wednesday and led dozens of patrol cars and a police helicopter on a chase: the state license plates affixed to the car started with "FPD" and carried a law-enforcement style, star-shaped insignia.

Baltimore police said the car was driven by Alycia Marie Hoffman, 25, a Bel Air woman with a lengthy arrest record, according to court records. She has no known law enforcement background and did not own the car.

Released through the Fraternal Order of Police Maryland State Lodge, the plates were issued to a retired Harford County deputy sheriff who owns the car, Maryland FOP president Rodney Bartlett said. Anthony Abbazia reported the car stolen just a few hours after the police chase ended, according to Harford County Sherriff's spokesman Edward Hopkins. Hoffman is Abbazia's granddaughter.

Only current and former law enforcement officers are permitted to own the FOP specialty plates — though the tags carry no special authority, Bartlett said.

"It's more of a fraternity thing," he said.

With the owner's permission, a family member or any legal driver can drive the car.

The plates are among the more than 800 organizational plates the state has sanctioned, said Buel C. Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Other law enforcement organizations with plates sold in the state include Concerns of Police Survivors, Maryland Law Enforcement Officers, Inc., Maryland State Police Alumni Association, Police Dispatchers, Inc. and Anne Arundel County Reserve Officers.

The state approves specialty plates for organizations through an application process that requires groups to be official nonprofits with at least 25 members who are registered drivers in Maryland. A state panel reviews the emblems. Once approved, groups are responsible for screening applicants under their own criteria. The Motor Vehicle Administration issues the plates.

The Maryland State Lodge FOP plates have been around since at least 1970, when the group's secretary, John Parker of Prince George's County Lodge No. 89, told other members that the state had approved his project of creating special "FP" tags.

"Now when we see a 'FP' auto on the road, you will know it is a FOP member or his family," he said, according to a FOP web page documenting the state organization's history.

To join the FOP, its national constitution states that members must be full-time, sworn law enforcement officers. The national FOP leaves it to state chapters and individual lodges to decide any other membership requirements, as well as the requirements for retired officers.

According to the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, active and retired organization members are eligible for FOP tags. A person must bring in or mail a copy of their title, current license plate or temporary plate registration card to the Lodge that shows the member as the owner or co-owner of the car seeking specialty plates. Then the Lodge gets a special application from the state chapter that an applicant takes with them to the MVA.

The plates cannot be transferred, Bartlett said. If a person's FOP membership is terminated, the organization tells the state to not renew the specialty tags and to return the plates to the FOP, Bartlett said.

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