Joel Rubin and Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2011
Unlicensed drivers without prior convictions would be given the chance to avoid having their vehicles impounded under new rules outlined Tuesday by the Los Angeles Police Department.
The proposed changes to the impound procedures are a potentially explosive issue because LAPD Chief Charlie Beck designed the reforms to remedy what he believes is the unfair burden that impounds place on illegal immigrants. Since immigrants who are in the country illegally cannot get driver’s licenses in California and most other states, they make up the majority of the drivers who have their cars impounded for the infraction.
Beck contends that the hundreds of dollars in fees and fines that must be paid to retrieve an impounded car and the disruption to illegal immigrants’ often tenuous hold on jobs deal a disproportionate blow to people “who are a valuable asset to our community and who have very limited resources.”
In an interview Tuesday, Beck amplified his position: “It’s a fairness issue. There is a vast difference between someone driving without a license because they cannot legally be issued one and someone driving after having their license revoked.”
The city’s influential police union, which is leading the opposition to the plan, has criticized Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for trying what they see as an effort to score political points through reforms that the union warns could hurt public safety.
Under the new rules, police would let an unlicensed driver who has not been convicted previously of driving without a valid license summon someone with a license, who would then be allowed to drive the car away.
Beck assured the board that he would not put the changes into place until hearing concerns from commissioners, immigration advocates, opponents of the plan, and the public. He gave no firm timeline.