Appeals Court grants temporary stay for LAPD's vehicle impound policy

A judge has ruled that LAPD's relaxed policy on vehicle impounds conflicts with state law.
A judge has ruled that LAPD's relaxed policy on vehicle impounds conflicts with state law.

The state’s Court of Appeals has granted the City of Los Angeles a temporary stay that allows the police department to use a relaxed vehicle impound policy for unlicensed drivers. The policy had been knocked down by a lower court.

Special Order 7 is an LAPD directive first introduced by the L.A. police chief last year that directed officers to allow unlicensed drivers to avoid having their cars impounded if they meet certain criteria such as having valid car insurance and no prior violations.

The L.A. Police Protective Union and the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch both sued the city. The union argued that Special Order 7 put officers in a legal limbo of having to either follow the police chief’s order or violate state law. Attorneys for Judicial Watch say allowing unlicensed drivers to keep their cars puts other drivers at risk.   

They won when the policy was rescinded last month after an L.A. Superior Court judge ruled the LAPD’s Special Order 7 directive violated state vehicle code that states officers shall impound the car of an unlicensed driver for 30 days.

But the L.A. city attorney appealed the judge’s ruling and asked for a temporary stay on October 9 while the case works its way through the appellate court.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision. We strongly believe that Special Order No. 7 is lawful,” said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer in a press release.

Tyler Izen, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, issued the following statement:

“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 that preempted uniform enforcement of the statewide impound regulations. The decision to litigate was not taken lightly, and it was not a position on immigration policy or the status of undocumented immigrants in this country. The LAPPL felt strongly that it was unreasonable and unacceptable to place our membership in this position, and that public safety suffered because of this Special Order.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in written statement that he would “be reinstating the order immediately."

The department's vehicle impound policy was introduced as a way to improve relations with Los Angeles’ immigrant population. Police often have a hard time getting undocumented residents to report crimes for fear of being deported, and because it’s impossible for those who are living in the country illegally to obtain a driver’s license. That will change soon. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a state bill into law that allows undocumented people to apply for a driver’s license by 2015.