LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said he supports giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in California to improve roadway safety.
"I think it's important that the state look at licensing undocumented immigrants," Beck said during a media availability on Thursday. "It's a public safety issue. People that are licensed are more likely to have insurance, more likely to report accidents, more likely to have vehicles that are registered to them."
Beck said the state has failed to reduce the number of illegal immigrants driving without a license.
The chief concern is safety on the road by forcing all drivers to take the rigorous testing to get a license, and the ability of police to identify the people they encounter, Beck said.
"It doesn't make any sense to me. And we could increase safety on the roads," he said. "When you make things illegal, you cause a lot of other things by chain reaction."
One type of crime that Beck believes would decrease is hit-and-run accidents, because illegal immigrant drivers wouldn't have to fear being caught without a license at the scene of such accidents, he said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he, too, would support such an initiave, but with conditions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In recent months, Beck has pushed for changes to the LAPD's vehicle impound rules, which would ease fines faced by unlicensed drivers who have their cars towed and impounded.
Police commissioners were due to vote on the policy last week, but the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which advises state legislators, said local government doesn't have the authority to change the policy.
The vote was rescheduled for Feb. 28. The city's Public Safety Committee is expected to review the policy during a meeting on Friday.
Currently, those caught driving without a valid license, including those who have had their licenses suspended or revoked, can have their cars impounded for up to 30 days.
Towing and impound charges often top $1,000, and advocates for the poor and immigrants said the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
"What Chief Beck should be doing is enforcing the law, making it clear to people that if we catch you driving without a license there are going to be consequences, its going to hurt," said Ira Mehleman with the Foundation for American Immigration Reform. "That’s the way you enforce all laws and illegal aliens shouldn’t be the exception."
Beck said licenses issued to illegal immigrants should be different than regular ones, such as a provisional license or a non-resident license.
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that may not be such a conflicting idea, and human rights advocates said they would support that contingency.
"People can still have a position against illegal immigration and still believe you need a license to be on the streets," Villaraigosa said.
Mixed reactions to Beck's statements poured onto NBCLA’s Facebook page.
Cathy Go wrote that she lost her truck in a hit-and-run by an illegal immigrant.
"He was driving his cousins legit vehicle," she wrote. "I think they need to have stiffer fines for people who drive illegally and also are enabled by another, legal owner."
Taye Monaster wrote the idea "is absolutely ridiculous."
"I don't understand why they can't do things the correct way and come here legally and then go from there," Monaster wrote. "It's insane, all these rights/priviledges they wanna give illegals while we Americans all struggle to stay afloat."
Frankie Campos wrote that he agrees with the chief.
"It's funny how most people are quick to say no and judge without looking at facts," Campos wrote. "Also how do you think your ancestors got here? That's right, illegally unless you're native American or Mexican then they were already here."
State Attorney General Kamala Harris said undocumented immigrants should stand in line to obtain legal status.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.