Impound policy

LAPD officers impound a motorist's car in the Van Nuys corridor after he was found to be driving without a license. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

The fate of a Los Angeles police policy that gives officers some leeway in how they impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers has been thrown into question.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green on Monday ruled that the policy, giving officers leeway in some scenarios when dealing with people caught driving without a license, violates state law. The policy was implemented by Police Chief Charlie Beck last year.

Beck and the Police Commission presented the new rules as the morally correct move in a city with a large population of undocumented immigrants who cannot legally obtain licenses and thus were having their cars impounded at disproportionate rates.

But Green's ruling, while a setback to Beck and the Police Commission, did not immediately toss the LAPD policy out. In coming weeks, the judge is to decide whether he should put his own ruling aside until an appeals court hears the case. Until then, the LAPD's policy will remain in effect.

Under the terms of Special Order 7, unlicensed drivers who meet several requirements -- including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving -- still have their cars impounded, but no longer face the 30-day hold on their vehicles, with fines that now often exceed $1,200.

The union that represents rank-and-file police officers disagreed, saying the new policy violates state law by stripping officers of the discretion over when to apply a 30-day hold. The union, along with Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning watchdog organization based in Washington, sued the city, seeking to have the policy tossed out.

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Twitter: @joelrubin

joel.rubin@latimes.com