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State attorney general says LAPD impound policy is legal

May 3, 2012 |  6:52 pm

California's attorney general says a new impound policy adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department earlier this year is legal.

The attorney general’s opinion issued this week says that a police department can establish guidelines allowing an impounded vehicle to be released in less than 30 days.

“In our view, it is entirely appropriate for various agencies to adapt their policies as they best see fit to serve the particular needs of their communities,” reads the 18-page opinion by Kamala D. Harris and Deputy Atty. Gen. Marc J. Nolan.

Whether local authorities can implement such policies has been a source of controversy over the last several months.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck advocated for reducing the amount of hold time for vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers, arguing that impounding cars for 30 days placed an unfair burden on illegal immigrants who cannot get a driver's license in California. Fees for impounds add up daily and can amount to more than $1,000 over 30 days.

The new policy, which was approved by the Los Angeles Police Commission in February, allows for a reduced impound time for some unlicensed drivers who are stopped on minor traffic infractions but have auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which provides legal opinions to state lawmakers, concluded that such policies were illegal under state law. The city attorney’s office concluded the policy was legal.

[Updated, 8:07 p.m.:  "The city attorney's office provided legal guidance to the Los Angeles Police Department on their proposed impounding policy. We appreciate the additional guidance by the attorney general's office," Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said through his spokesman, John Franklin.]

The Los Angeles Police Protective League last month filed suit against the city to stop it from implementing the new policy, citing the conflicting legal opinions.

State Sen. Kevin De Leon said he requested the opinion from the attorney general because he felt the district attorney had overstepped his bounds when he wrote an opinion on the legality of local impound policies.

“I thought the D.A. inappropriately injected his own personal opinion in what has long been up to the discretion of local communities,” De Leon said. “I thought we should get a more objective opinion.”

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said Cooley offered his opinion at the request of the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Assn.

“There’s nothing inappropriate about that,” she said.

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-- Paloma Esquivel

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