Los Angeles: On Tuesday, February 14, 2012, the Los Angeles Police Commission will review the proposed changes to the Los Angeles Police Department’s vehicle impound procedures. Below is Chief Beck’s statement and explanation of the proposed changes in procedure:
“For a number of reasons there is a huge amount of confusion regarding my proposed clarification of the Los Angeles Police Department’s impound procedures. One is the complexity of the issue which is compounded by the fact that multiple Vehicle Code Sections can be applied to impound situations (i.e., California Vehicle Section 22651(P) and 14602.6). Another is the polarizing nature of the national debate on immigration as well as the emotional chaos that goes along with that discourse.
Let me be very clear, we will continue to issue citations and make arrests, when necessary, for people we encounter that drive without a license – regardless of their country of origin. We will also, in most cases, impound their vehicles and hold them until the registered owner and a licensed driver are available to retrieve the vehicle from our impound yards. The proposed change is that we will specify the particular impound authority that officers use. Additionally, we are reinforcing the requirement that under certain circumstances officers should not impound the vehicle.
Standardizing the impound authority is a matter of basic fairness. The current guidelines can lead the officers to use the two applicable California Vehicle Code Sections interchangeably and inconsistently throughout the City.
This results in vastly varied penalties for the same crime – The 14602.6 Vehicle Code Section mandates a 30-day impound ($1,300+), while the 22651(P) Vehicle Code Section allows a car to be released, with proper documentation, the next day ($250).
According to our City Attorney, both sections are legal to use, but it is obvious they have a vastly different impact. They should be used to match the nature of the offense. In cases where the unlicensed driver has caused an accident, has a prior conviction for the same offense, has no proof of insurance, or cannot be reasonably identified, a 30-day impound is warranted. When it is their first offense and none of these other factors are present, the lesser section is more appropriate. Our entire justice system is based on progressive penalties – the punishment should always fit the crime. These procedures also create incentives for positive behaviors – driving with insurance and maintaining proper identification.
Additionally, prior court decisions require the release of the vehicle to a licensed driver who is at the scene or when the vehicle is parked at the registered owner’s residence.
These decisions (i.e., Miranda vs. Cornelius) have made it abundantly clear that this is not an option, but requirement for law enforcement. 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.
When an unlicensed driver has no prior offenses, the impounding of a vehicle must be based on the vehicle posing a traffic hazard, or posing a risk to the safety of the community (the burden cannot be met if an authorized, licensed driver is present to care for the vehicle). I understand that these requirements are a concern to some critics, but for my officers they form the legal framework that must be used in determining their actions when making the decision to impound a vehicle.
In conclusion, that is the sum and substance of the proposed changes in procedure – the clarification of which impound section to use in what circumstance as well as explaining the authority and limitations of the Community Caretaking Doctrine. Public safety will not be compromised by these changes, nor is the Los Angeles Police Department ignoring the law. We are, in fact, enforcing the law to its letter and in its spirit.”
For further information please contact LAPD Media Relations Section (213) 486-5910.