The policy being changed is centered around a current law that calls for law enforcement to tow and impound the vehicle belonging to an unlicensed driver for 30 days - a law that some view as unfair towards illegal workers who cannot obtain a valid California driver's license. As a result, LAPD chief Charlie Beck announced that the official policy of the department will be to offer leniency to unlicensed drivers, according to Officer.com.
As the law officially stands now, if an officer stops an unlicensed driver they will tow the vehicle and impound it for 30 days. With the new LAPD-adopted policy, however, drivers can get their vehicles back the next day with valid identification, registration and proof of insurance, even if they don't have a driver's license - they just need to bring a licensed driver with them during the vehicle pickup.
So after the change, the process will play out differently in that the law enforcement officer will view the length of the impounding on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the ability of drivers to conform to the law. "The difference is that we incentivize drivers to comply with the things they can comply with...have insurance, have identification," Beck explained. "If you do that, your vehicle will likely still be impounded, but we won't hold it for the entire 30 days. So it is an incentive toward positive behavior."
As for legal citizens caught without a valid driver's license, such as drivers who have a suspended or revoked license or were found to be at fault in an accident, they will still be subject to a full 30-day impound time.
Why the change in policy?
Beck, the Police Commission and Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argue that illegal workers have no ability to obtain a license, and as such face added hardship by having their vehicles impounded for 30 days. The mayor and police chief also explained in a public press conference that they have been working very hard to build trust with the latino community and they hope that this change will help to build trust within the community, which they believe is crucial to increasing cooperation with police investigations and community strengthening efforts.
The police chief also said that he does not believe the law is "fair" to illegal immigrants trying to work in the U.S., so he hopes the change in policy will make it easier for them to make a living in the U.S.
Not all agree
Naturally, as is the case with anything even remotely political in nature, there are some who do not share the views of the political figures and police chief who recently backed the policy change. For example, Don Rosenberg, who lost his 25 year old son to an auto accident involving an unlicensed and illegal driver in 2010. "The car should be confiscated and the driver should be arrested, and if they are caught again, then just keep jacking up the penalty until this stops," argued Rosenberg. "There's over a million unlicensed drivers in California, and they're killing people every day."
Rosenberg wasn't alone in protesting the new policy, either, as he was joined by "a few hundred" protestors at a community forum held by the LAPD last month. "It doesn't matter if you're legal or illegal. If you're an unlicensed driver, you should not be driving," one man told the commission, who went on later to rule four-to-one in favor of loosening impound policies towards illegal unlicensed drivers.