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LAPD tightens proposed vehicle-impound procedures

Unlicensed drivers can avoid lengthy impounds if they weren't involved in a serious accident, have no record of driving without a license and show IDs and insurance. Under the original proposal, many could have simply asked someone with a license to drive the car away.

February 03, 2012|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times

A proposed change to the LAPD's vehicle-impound procedures, which would allow some unlicensed drivers to avoid having their vehicles taken away for 30 days, will move forward with tightened restrictions, Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.

In order to avoid the lengthy impound, unlicensed drivers must not have been stopped in connection with a serious accident and will have to show identification and insurance, as well as not have any previous convictions for driving without a license.

Such drivers would be cited and have their vehicles seized but would be allowed to pick them up with a licensed driver rather than wait for 30 days.

The proposed changes to impound procedures have been controversial since they were announced in December. At that time, police officials described less-rigorous rules that would have allowed many unlicensed drivers to ask someone with a license to drive the car away. Under the tightened restrictions, cars would be impounded "in the vast majority of cases," Beck said.

"I hear loud and clear that people are very concerned about unlicensed drivers without insurance and unlicensed drivers without IDs," he said. "I think this is a procedure that will increase public safety."

Beck came under fire for the changes as initially described — particularly because he said the loosened procedures were a way to remedy the unfair burden that impounds place on illegal immigrants, who cannot get driver's licenses in California and most other states.

In January, hundreds gathered at a Los Angeles Police Commission meeting in Northridge to denounce illegal immigration and argue that lifting 30-day impounds would reward lawbreakers and endanger public safety.

But Beck said Thursday that the proposed rules would improve public safety by giving undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles an incentive to get insurance and identification. Acceptable forms of ID would include Mexican matricula and other consular identification cards, as well as birth certificates.

Cynthia Anderson Barker, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, which has fought 30-day impounds in court, said she was "very disappointed that the chief didn't go forward with his original proposal."

The vast majority of unlicensed drivers she comes in contact with already have insurance and some kind of identification, Barker said. Of particular concern, she said, were those who have been previously cited because they are unable to get licenses.

The change will be presented to the Police Commission later this month, Beck said — although he has emphasized that the changes would affect department procedures, not policy, and would not need to be approved by the commission.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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