Following an unflattering report on vehicle impounds by the LAPD, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today said he would stop L.A. cops' 30-day impounds for first-time offenders who have been pulled over and found to lack drivers licenses.

For the most part around here those people are called illegal immigrants. And they provide a certain glue (dish washing, kid-watching, car-washing, lawn-mowing, nail-hammering, etc.) to our society, but they can't legally drive here.

The mayor's announcement took the department by surprise, we were told, and L.A. police union president Paul M. Weber said the policy “puts politics above public safety.”

The mayor made the announcement today during …

… an interview with La Opinion newspaper for a piece that apparently has yet to be published. [Added at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday: The story is up, here and via Google Translate, here].

The aforementioned impound study by Cynthia Anderson-Barker for the Southern California Immigration Coalition and the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild alleges racial profiling during traffic stops that end with illegal immigrants losing their cars for 30 days.

Credit: Southern California Immigration Coalition

Credit: Southern California Immigration Coalition

State law mandates that unlicensed drivers see a 30-day impound, and studies indicate that the unlicensed are more likely to get into traffic accidents.

However immigrants' rights advocates allege departments like the LAPD have used the tows to basically take folks' cars, particularly in illegal-immigrant-heavy communities.

The Lawyers Guild (PDF) wants the LAPD to adopt a Maywood-like policy:

Police officers shall refrain from impounding vehicles of unlicensed drivers, if the vehicle is already securely located in a legal parking space OR a licensed driver is available to remove the vehicle to a safe place.

The LAPD already enacted a policy that would allow friends or relatives of an unlicensed operator to drive a car home (and keep it safe from the hooks of a two truck) if they're caught without a license at a DUI checkpoint.

The officers' union known as the L.A. Police Protective League is way unhappy with Villaraigosa's announcement, which is seen as a way to placate Latino and immigrant constituents. Weber:

It is a sad day for Los Angeles residents because the Mayor is directing the LAPD to purposely not enforce a state law designed to protect public safety …

First, an unlicensed driver willing to ignore the law is, at least temporarily, less likely to further violate this law because he or she will not have access to the impounded vehicle. Second, the cost and inconvenience of recovering an impounded vehicle discourages people without licenses from driving. That is precisely why the state legislature enacted the 30-day hold law.


LA Weekly