A Superior Court judge said today that the LAPD can't order its officers not to impound the cars of people caught driving without licenses.
The department's rule, Special Order 7, was implemented following complaints that the vehicles of people who came here illegally were being impounded at alarming rates. Those who are undocumented can't obtain drivers licenses in California. The ACLU defended the department's stance but lost today in court. The organization says it will appeal:
The ruling by Judge Terry Green said the LAPD union known as the Los Angeles Police Protective League was right in challenging the Special Order.
The judge also denied the ACLU's request for a stay in implementing his original ruling overturning the rule, meaning that as soon as today's judgment is entered into the record, it will be the law.
ACLU staff attorney Michael Kaufman told us the organization would appeal the ruling to the state appeals court ASAP. He said the ACLU would request a stay of Green's ruling so that cops are not told this week to resume impounding cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days.
The police union argued that the rule conflicted with state law, namely the vehicle code, serving to “frustrate” their jobs. The state code does call for 30 day impounds.
The ACLU and immigrants' rights advocates have argued that impounding a car amounts to punishment for being here illegally, because those without papers often don't have the more than $1,000 necessary to get their cars out of impound lots.
Basically, they're getting their cars taken for crossing the border. (Imagine if this happened to Americans driving to Baja.) Then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck agreed that the practice was onerous and vowed to put a stop to it.
Then the police union stepped in. Tyler Izen, president of the LAPPL, said this today:
LAPD officers were caught in the middle of a legal controversy over whether they were vested with the authority to impound vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers as required by the State Vehicle Code, or follow LAPD Special Order No. 7 that was preempted by uniform enforcement of the statewide impound regulations. The decision to litigate was not taken lightly, and it was not a position on immigration policy or the status of undocumented immigrants in this country. The LAPPL felt strongly that it was unreasonable and unacceptable to place our membership in this position, and that public safety suffered because of this Special Order.
Kaufman of the ACLU, by the way, says the ruling means cops can still decide not to impound for 30 days. But the ruling means they'll have the option to impound, rather than the mandate not to do so.
A law that passed the legislature recently would give those who are here without documentation the ability to obtain drivers licenses again. That rule won't go into effect until 2014 or later, however.