Chief of Police Charlie Beck’s proposed changes to the LAPD’s automobile impound policy will be voted on by the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday. It is pretty much preordained that the change will pass through the commission without a hitch.
While the new policy is all but a done deal, what remains open to question— according to critics of the change—is whether or not the proposed new interpretation of the LAPD’s policy is legal. City attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office has told the chief, that the change is not only permissible under the law, it is more correct than the old procedure.
However, according to a statement released Monday afternoon by the LAPPL (the LAPD union) California’s Legislative Counsel says it’s not legal. (The Legislative Counsel is what CA lawmakers and others use to sort out such matters.)
(And, indeed, that’s what the letter from William Chan, Deputy Legislative Counsel, says.)
For those of who have somehow missed this controversy, here’s the deal. Last Spring LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that the department was changing its rules for impounding cars of unlicensed drivers at sobriety checkpoints.
The old policy requires that the cops impound a car for 30 days if it is being driven by an unlicensed driver, whether the driver has been drinking or not. For years immigrant rights advocates have rightly pointed out that the policy cuts unfairly against undocumented immigrants, who often need cars to go to work and take their kids to school, but are prohibited from getting a driver’s license under California law. (Thank you, Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Bothered by the fact that the impound procedures scooped up and penalized so many otherwise-law abiding undocumented residents, Chief Beck made a change that allows the unlicensed driver to call a licensed driver to pick up the car, as long as driver A has ID and car insurance. The unlicensed driver also cannot have caused an accident, or have prior conviction for the same offense. Otherwise the full 30 days kicks in.
Critics of the policy point out that unlicensed drivers are significantly more likely to be involved in fatal crashes and more likely to drive drunk and other reckless behaviors than are validly-licensed drivers.
Of course, all this would be a moot point if undocumented folks were allowed to get drivers’ licenses— then only the unlicensed scofflaws, who are so statistically dangerous, would be at risk of impounds. But, hell, why be practical? (I’m talking to you, California state legislature.)
Okay, back to the question raised in the beginning: is the change legal or not?
Beck makes it clear he has accepted the opinion of City Attorney Trutanich, whose reading of the law centers around the fact that there are two dueling sections in the CA Vehicle code, one of which mandates a 30-day impound, (that costs the poor car owner about $1,300 or more in fees)—while the other Vehicle Code Section allows a car to be released the next day, with proper documentation, (at an approximate cost of $250). Beck explains that he is perfectly within the law when ordering his officers to enforce the second, less onerous section, rather than the first.
The Legislative Analyst says, to the contrary, that the local cops can’t pick and choose between the two Vehicle Code sections; that the one that specifies the mandatory 30-day rule for those who have never had a California DL, legally holds sway. (If you’re not put to sleep by all this and are curious, you can look it up here. The relevant opinion is in the last full paragraph at the bottom of page 6.)
Beck counters that a number of court decisions back his and the City Attorney’s reading of the matter:
Commonly referred to as the Community Caretaking Doctrine, the courts have determined that the decision to impound any vehicle should be based on the totality of circumstances and must be reasonable and in the furtherance of public safety. Statutory authority alone is not sufficient to deprive someone of their vehicle.
In any case the commission votes today and, barring any force majeure, the chief’s proposal will pass.
UPDATE: Blogger Ron Kaye has found an interesting twist on the City Attorney’s opinion on the impound issue. It seems that civil rights attorneys in a federal lawsuit filed in behalf of undocumented immigrants who had their cars impounded for 30 days, argued that the cops had no right to do all this impounding, and to back up their claim, they cited the aforementioned Community Caretaking Doctrine. [See Above], Mr. Trutanich’s office countered that, according to previous decisions upheld by the 9th Circuit the police could absolutely impound the cars of drivers who never had a license, that the Community Caretaking Doctrine did not apply.
So which is it?
AND IN OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT NEWS—-THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IS HOPING TO IMPLEMENT A NEW 2-TRACK CAREER SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS SOME DEPUTIES TO NOT HAVE TO SERVE YEARS IN THE JAILS
The sheriff’s department’s insistence that all deputies have to work the jails for their first years out of the LASD academy has long been a source of criticism for reformers, yet the department has resisted change. Now, it seems that, Sheriff Baca is embracing the notion of a two-track career system—parole OR custody, with custody duty offering a fast track to promotion.
Ari Bloomekatz and Robert Faturechi have the story for the LA Times.
AND SOME GOOD NEWS: AS EXPECTED, THE TRUANCY FINE ISSUE MOVED OUT OF COMMITTEE AT THE CITY COUNCIL
Rick Orlov of the Daily News/Contra Costa Times has lots of the details.
School Board prez, Monica Garcia, approved the move.
DID RADIO SHOW THIS AMERICAN LIFE MOVE APPLE TO SEND OUTSIDE INSPECTORS TO FOXCONN?
On Monday, in response to a growing upset from its devoted customers, Apple announced that it had asked an independent inspecting entity to assess conditions at Foxconn and the other main factories where our shiny new i-things are made.
The outcry has been building for a while, but many believe the turning point was the January 6, 2012, brilliant and devastating broadcast by NPR’s This American Life about the Foxconn plant.
By the end of last month, the NY Times followed up with its own affecting report on the awful conditions. But it was the amazing Mike Daisy’s adaptation for TAL of his one-man show on the topic, combined with the TAL staff’s own follow-up—from which there was no going back—especially when, a few days later, there were horrifying reports of a threatened mass suicide among Foxconn workers.
You really are missing something if you don’t listen to the podcast.
May Apple’s audit genuinely stimulate change.