The Los Angeles Police Department will soon start ignoring California state law, which requires police to impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers for 30 days.
The majority of unlicensed motorists in Los Angeles are immigrants who are in the country illegally and have low-income jobs. The LAPD says the state’s impound law is unfair because it limits their ability to get to their jobs and imposes a steep fine to get their car back.
As long as drivers can produce some form of I.D., proof of insurance and vehicle registration, they’ll be allowed to keep their car. Police Chief Charlie Beck insists that it’s simply leveling the playing field.
“It’s about fairness. It’s about equal application of the law,” Beck told a Los Angeles TV station earlier this month.
Opponents of Beck’s decision are furious and refer to studies showing unlicensed drivers are among the most dangerous on the road. Indeed, a 2011 AAA study titled “Unlicensed to Kill” finds they are five times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes and more likely to flee the scene of a crime.
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley wrote Chief Beck, saying his policy would be “invalid” in light of state law, which states a vehicle “shall be impounded.” But supporters of Beck’s decision say, regardless of the law, he’s doing the right thing for illegal immigrants who cannot yet obtain driver’s licenses here.
“A low-income person doesn’t have the ability to pay the fees after 30 days to get their car back,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, former Archbishop of Los Angeles and an immigration activist. “Basically, we’re just creating more punitive problems for them.”
The L.A. Police Commission voted in favor of the new policy 4-1 last month. The LAPD says officers will begin implementing it in a matter of weeks. The city attorney has also sided with Beck’s decision.