LOS ANGELES (CBS) — The Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday will consider a proposal to amend the Police Department’s policy of impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers, a plan that has drawn heated rhetoric from both sides of the issue due to its connection with illegal immigration.
At the urging of immigration activists, civil rights groups and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief Charlie Beck proposed a policy last fall and a revision in January that would drop a required 30-day vehicle impound for unlicensed drivers who are stopped by police — under certain criteria.
Lawyers and activists with the National Lawyers Guild, the Southern California Immigration Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union argue the existing policy discriminates against illegal immigrants, who are unable to apply for a driver’s license.
Beck’s proposal, however, is opposed by the union representing rank-and-file police officers, which filed a formal complaint last week with the department’s employee relations administrator.
In the complaint, the Los Angeles Police Protective League said the department failed to “meet and confer with the League over the effects and impact on the wages, hours and working conditions” of officers that would have to enforce the new special order.
The change is also opposed by City Councilman Mitch Englander, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.
“I don’t think this passes legal muster, quite frankly, from my analysis,” Englander said after a briefing on the issue last Friday.
He said he was convinced the intent of the state law governing police impound procedure passed in the 1980s was to prevent unlicensed drivers from being on the road.
“Studies show the unlicensed driver will be back behind the wheel,” Englander said. “I don’t want blood on my hands, and I don’t know how many more deaths and injuries have to occur.”
A memo by the state Legislative Council, which provides legal advice to state legislators, released a memo early this month questioning the legality of the proposal.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office was expected to provide its own legal interpretation of the policy change during the Police Commission meeting.
Under Beck’s proposal, drivers would have to show valid identification, car registration and proof of insurance in order to avoid a mandatory 30-day impound. Drivers who were at fault in an accident, who had their licenses suspended, revoked or had been caught previously driving without a license would not qualify for a shortened impound.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore told the Public Safety Committee last week that the revised policy is necessary because officers in the field are often confused about when to impound a car and for how long. About 85 percent of impounds are issued under a mandatory 30-day hold, he said.
The rest are detained under a shortened period or not at all when a licensed driver is available to pick up an affected vehicle.
Beck, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed support last week for creating a different driver’s license for illegal immigrants who have been in the country for several years and have a clean record.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who is running for City Council, announced plans last week to introduce a bill to create a driver’s license category for illegal immigrants. Cedillo has introduced similar bills before that were vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.