Los Angeles Police Department officers will no longer be letting many unlicensed drivers leave a traffic stop with their cars now that Chief Charlie Beck has rescinded a controversial impound policy known as Special Order 7 -- for the time being.
On Sept. 23, Beck and the city of Los Angeles lost the latest round of a legal bid to keep the policy in place, when Superior Court Judge Terry Green struck down the order, saying it conflicted with state law and was an attempt to supersede it.
"I am disappointed in this court's decision and believe it inappropriately undermines the Police Department's authority to lawfully direct the conduct of its officers," Beck said in the statement. "I look forward to the next phase of the judicial process."
The City Attorney's Office filed a notice of appeal with the California Court of Appeal on Monday, seeking to overturn the injunction. In a statement, the office noted that the Attorney General's Office had previously concluded that Special Order 7 could be legally implemented.
Beck had said as late as last week the policy would remain in place pending the appeal, but the chief issued a directive to officers around 8 p.m. Friday, instructing them to set aside the policy, which had asked officers to allow unlicensed drivers to leave in their vehicles after a traffic stop if they met certain criteria.
That criteria included having car insurance, valid identification and no prior violations for driving without a license. Under state law, cars of unlicensed drivers can be impounded for up to 30 days, incurring storage fees of up to $1,200.
Instead, in his Friday memo, Beck asked officers to use their discretion under the Community Caretaking Doctrine, a legal guideline that instructs law enforcement to look at the totality of a situation to decide the best course of action.
A statement from the department issued Saturday said the new directive was issued under advisement from the City Attorney's Office.
Chief Beck and the civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department, have argued Special Order 7 was necessary to prevent unfairly targeting unlicensed drivers, who are disproportionately poor compared with licensed drivers and could not be reasonably expected to afford the high cost of impounding. The order was supported by the ACLU and other immigrant-rights groups.
Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the majority of the department's officers, filed the suit to halt Special Order 7, which it said puts officers in a legally tenuous spot deciding between department directives and state law.
When reached for comment about the new guidelines, a league spokesman pointed to a statement issued last week by the union's president, Tyler Izen, in response to the new ruling.
"LAPD officers were caught in the middle of a legal controversy over whether they were vested with the authority to impound vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers as required by the State Vehicle Code,or follow LAPD Special Order No. 7 that was pre-empted by uniform enforcement of the statewide impound regulations," he said in the statement.