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LAPD: New impound law shows 'compassion' for illegal immigrants

February 28, 2012 |  7:29 pm

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck

Calling it an act of “humanity” and “compassion” toward the city's illegal immigrants, the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to limit the cases in which police officers impound vehicles of drivers operating without a license.

The commission made the move despite warnings from Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and state lawyers that the new impound policy is illegal.

It marks a victory for immigration-rights advocates as well as Police Chief Charlie Beck, who has championed the new policy despite sharp criticism at public meetings, on talk radio and by some law enforcement officials.

The shift is significant in a city with a large illegal immigrant population. For decades, the Los Angeles Police Department has been trying to convince immigrants that police are not the enemy, and Beck said he hopes the new rules will improve relations and encourage undocumented immigrants to cooperate with police investigations.

The new policy will apply to unlicensed drivers who are pulled over for a variety of minor traffic infractions, ranging from a broken tail light to speeding.

Under its terms, unlicensed drivers who meet several requirements — including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving — will still have their cars impounded but no longer face a 30-day hold, with fines that now often exceed $1,200.

The new rules will permit drivers to immediately collect their vehicles from impound as long as they are the registered owner and come with a licensed driver. They would pay the regular storage fee of $38.50 per day plus a one-time fee of $228.

Officers will be instructed to forgo impounding a vehicle altogether in some cases if a licensed driver is in the car or able to arrive “immediately.” Drivers who do not satisfy the requirements, or who are caught driving on revoked or suspended licenses, will have their vehicles held for the 30 days.

Beck expects the new rules will go into effect in a few weeks, after officers are given training at roll call meetings.

“I am doing this for many reasons,” Beck said. “It will improve responsible behavior among unlicensed drivers. But it is also a fairness issue for people who don’t have the opportunity to get licenses. And it is a chance to build ties with a community that feels marginalized and that my officers have a lot of contact with. It is good to show some sense of understanding of their plight.”

Commissioner Debra Wong Yang, a former federal prosecutor, added, “The truth of the matter is that they’re here and we need to deal with this issue in a way that is practical and which shows some humanity.”

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--Joel Rubin

Photo: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck: Credit: L.A. Times

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