About a year ago, LAPD slackened its policy on impounding cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days. Since then, total impounds have dropped 39 percent.
The policy change, Special Order 7, was approved by the Los Angeles Police Commission. It primarily targeted unlicensed drivers who are undocumented immigrants.
At the time, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said it was more "humane" to allow unlicensed drivers who presented valid ID, car registration and insurance to call a licensed driver to pick up their car rather than automatically impounding the vehicle for a month. He also said the change might help make L.A.'s roads safer—through positive reinforcement, encourage undocumented, unlicensed drivers to stay at the scene of accidents and to get insurance.
The union for police officers in L.A. opposes the policy, claiming that it conflicts with the state's vehicle code and exposes officers to civil liability. The Los Angeles Police Protective League has a lawsuit underway in state court, seeking to overturn Special Order 7.
On Tuesday, Beck told the Police Commission he hasn't yet seen the new policy affect public safety.
"Do we, in fact, create a better group of drivers who are more likely to have insurance, that are more likely to have identification, that are less likely to be involved in hit and runs?" asked Beck while speaking with reporters after the meeting. "Do we make the roads safer with this type of policy? It's just too early to tell at this point."
Beck said he'll expect to see changes, for instance in the number of hit-and-runs in the city, in the next year. A full report on the policy change is due out next month.