Councilmembers question the legality of LAPD's new impound policy
LA Daily News
Feb 24, 2012
The LAPD's plan to stop impounding vehicles of some unlicensed drivers drew more criticism on Friday as a key City Council member questioned its logic and whether it violated state law.
Councilman Mitch Englander, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said the proposal by Chief Charlie Beck made no sense to him and he asked for a report on whether it meets state law.
"Studies show the unlicensed driver will be back behind the wheel," said Englander, who is a reserve police officer. "There was a reason this regulation was adopted. And it was to keep unlicensed drivers off the road."
A recent letter from the state Office of Legislative Counsel said state law requires cities to impound vehicles for 30 days that are driven by unlicensed drivers and there is no authority for the early release of the cars.
Englander asked the City Attorney's office to provide a legal analysis of the LAPD policy and the Legislative Counsel letter as well as any liability the city could face by a change in its policy.
The civilian Police Commission asked last week for the city attorney to review the legality of the revised impound policy.
Under current policy, LAPD officers who catch an unlicensed driver - whether at a drunk driver checkpoints or other traffic stop - will impound the vehicles of any driver who does not have a license.
Beck has proposed allowing those who are unlicensed, but have otherwise have insurance and clean records, to call a licensed driver to pick up the vehicle within a reasonable amount of time. Those who have suspended or revoked licenses will still have their cars seized.
The issue has generated a firestorm of controversy among various groups and on talk radio.
Critics say the policy is essentially giving an exemption to undocumented immigrants, who cannot legally obtain California licenses and are therefore believed to make up the majority of unlicensed drivers. They also argue that allowing unlicensed drivers to retain their vehicles makes it more likely they will drive again and present a hazards to other motorists.
Beck decided to explore changing the policy in response to complaints from the community about the cost of impounding cars and developing a policy that was less confusing to officers.
"Impounding cars is a tool practiced by officers tens of thousands of times a year," Deputy Chief Michel Moore told the Public Safety Committee. "We have looked and researched our policy and found there was room for improvement."
Councilman Dennis Zine, who also has been critical of the change, said he remains concerned over whether the drivers have insurance for their vehicles.
Also, Councilwoman Jan Perry asked for a review of other identification cards - such as Matricula Consular cards or for those seeking citizenship.
Englander also drew criticism from an attorney, Cynthia Anderson Barker, who is suing the city and members of the National Lawyers Guild for alleged conflicts of interest on the issue.
Barker said Englander had received more than $13,000 in contributions from Official Police Garages and the political consulting firm of his uncle, Harvey Englander, represents the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Englander denied any conflict.
"There is no recusal required," Englander said. "You should get your facts straight before you make such slanderous statements."