The Los Angeles Police Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday in favor of the police chief's new policy that will let unlicensed drivers, including undocumented immigrants, skirt a mandatory 30-day impound rule following a traffic stop.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, immigrant activist groups and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argued that the original policy discriminated against undocumented immigrants, who are unable to apply for driver licenses.
"We make them, by the enforcement of these statutes -- by the predictable, proper enforcement of these statutes -- we create a safer class of driver," Beck said during Tuesday's hearing downtown.
"We create people that have insurance. We create people that have identification. We create people that have proper registration of their vehicles, and people that are not causing traffic accidents and I think that's what we want to do here.
"We want to make a safer motoring public," he said.
Unlicensed drivers must meet certain criteria to skip the 30-day impound rule and retrieve their vehicles: they must have valid government ID, proof of insurance, their vehicle has to be properly registered with the DMV, they cannot be at fault in a collision and they cannot have any prior convictions for driving without a license.
Under the new policy, unlicensed drivers who meet the selected criteria would have their vehicles impounded for a shorter amount of time, possibly as little as 24 hours, based on their ability to pay impound fees and recover the vehicle.
Licensed drivers will still be subject to the 30-day impound rule, which is enacted about 85 percent of the time, LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore told the LA City Council's Public Safety Committee last week. The remaining 15 percent of impounded vehicles are detained under a shortened period or not at all when a licensed driver is available to pick up an affected vehicle, Moore said.
Beck acknowledged after the commission's vote that the debate was "far from over," but insisted that the policy would still crack down on unlicensed drivers who are repeat offenders or cause accidents.
The commission's vote isn't automatically subject to review by the City Council, but the council could vote to take up the issue.
The chief's proposal was opposed by the police union, which filed a complaint last week claiming the department didn't discuss the change with the union before moving forward.
In a letter sent to Beck and members of the commission, District Attorney Steve Cooley wrote, "In our view, such policies are contrary to state law and likely would create risks both to public safety and to public treasuries."
Document: Cooley's Full Letter (PDF)
The State Legislative Council released a memo earlier this month questioning the legality of the policy.
The Los Angeles City Council could vote to take up the issue, City News Service reported.
In a related story last week, Beck came out in favor of giving illegal immigrants driver licenses in an effort to improve roadway safety.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, who is running for City Council, has announced plans to introduce a bill to create a driver's license category for illegal immigrants. Cedillo has introduced similar bills before that were vetoed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.