LAPD’s vehicle-impound rules violate state law, judge rules

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

The controversial rules that officers in the Los Angeles Police Department must follow when deciding whether to impound vehicles are illegal, a judge ruled Monday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green, however, did not strike down the LAPD’s impound policy immediately. In coming weeks, the judge will 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, said Michael Kaufman, an attorney for the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Lberties Union, which was part of a coalition defending the impound rules.


Nonetheless, the decision threw the fate of the department’s impound policy into question and dealt a blow to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and members of the city’s Police Commission, who had fought to implement the rules.

At issue is Special Order 7, a directive Beck sent to officers last year that gave leeway in some scenarios to people caught driving without a license.

Under the terms of the order, 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 a 30-day hold on their vehicles, with fines that now often exceed $1,200.

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

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

“We are pleased with the ruling today,” said Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “LAPD officers were caught in the middle of a legal controversy over whether they must impound vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers as required by the state vehicle code or follow LAPD Special Order No. 7.... The LAPPL felt strongly that it was unreasonable and unacceptable to place our membership in this position.”

Kaufman said the ACLU and other groups in the coalition would appeal Green’s decision. Attorneys for the city could not be reached immediately for comment on whether the city would join them.


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