LAPD police union challenges Chief Beck's more lenient impound policy, charges 'political correctness'

Giants Fan Attacked

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File: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck declines to discuss details of a witness lineup in connection with the beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium during a news conference at police headquarters Thursday, May 26, 2011, in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League accuses LAPD Chief Charlie Beck of “political correctness” as he seeks to implement a more lenient car impound policy.

The police commission is scheduled to vote on Beck’s proposed policy at its meeting Tuesday. Observers expect the panel, appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who backs Beck's policy, to approve it.

In a letter to the department, the union that represents rank-and-file cops warns that Beck's proposed policy would endanger public safety by allowing unlicensed drivers to retrieve their cars more quickly. The letter argues he has failed to "meet and confer in good faith" with the union, and it lays the groundwork for a possible lawsuit by saying his policy violates state law.

Beck wants to require officers to let unlicensed drivers call someone who could retrieve their cars, instead of impounding them for 30 days. He argues that punishing drivers with impound fees running into the thousands of dollars isn’t fair, especially for undocumented immigrants who are unable to obtain driver's licenses.

Immigrant rights activists and the American Civil Liberties Union have hailed his proposal.

The chief's more lenient policy would not apply to drivers at fault in accidents or who’d faced previous license suspensions.

The police union says California Vehicle Code 14602.6 requires officers to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers for 30 days. The union also expressed concerns that public discussion of the proposed policy has prompted more complaints against officers.

The discussion has "already caused an inordinate increase of personnel complaints against innocent officers accusing them of racial bias for enforcing" the vehicle code, the letter says.

Beck has argued the vehicle code allows discretion. He's cited section 22651(P), which allows a car to be released, with proper documentation, and court rulings that require the release of a vehicle in certain circumstances.

"The current guidelines can lead officers to use the two applicable California Vehicle Code Sections interchangeably and inconsistently throughout the city," Beck said in a statement earlier this month.

"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)," the chief wrote. "Standardizing the impound authority is a matter of basic fairness."

The debate has stirred passions on both sides of the immigration divide. Some call the policy humane, while others say it rewards illegal immigration.

This story has been updated.

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