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Would the LAPD's proposed new impound policy undermine public safety?

February 24, 2012 |  3:50 pm


Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck made headlines this week. His proposed change to the department's impound policy and his support for issuing provisional driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants have sparked an intense debate.

The Police Protective League opposes Beck's impound plan, arguing it would undermine public safety. Of course public safety should be the guiding force in the debate. But how does Beck's proposal impact public safety?

Some have suggested that the chief's plan would leave dangerous drivers on the road. To be clear, the measure would grant police greater discretion in deciding when to seize a car. Drivers without a license but with auto insurance and no prior violations could keep their cars if a licensed driver were nearby to take the wheel. In addition, those drivers could retrieve their car as soon as the next day instead of 30 days later, as is currently the policy.

The league opposes the change and often points to a report by the Washington-based AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety as evidence that any change is dangerous. The report,"Unlicensed to Kill," offers a snapshot of the types of drivers involved in fatal crashes from 2007 to 2009. The AAA study found that 12.8% of fatal crashes involved unlicensed drivers. That's alarming. But turns out that unlicensed drivers aren't just individuals who can't get a license. The AAA report found that more than half of those unlicensed drivers were actually individuals whose licenses had been either revoked, suspended or canceled or had expired. The number of unlicensed drivers who were ineligible for a license and were involved in fatal crashes was actually 5% during that same 2007 to 2009 period.

Moreover, the AAA reports seems to indicate the real problem is drunk drivers.  Nearly half of those driving without a license and involved in a fatality had alcohol in their systems.

Which brings me to the issue of impounds  and public safety. It seems much of the opposition is operating under the notion that Beck's policy would allow dangerous drivers to stay on the road. But the proposed changes would still require police to seize the cars of those unlicensed drivers who the AAA study suggest pose the real danger -- namely drivers who lost their licenses and those who had alcohol in their systems.


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--Sandra Hernandez

 Photo: LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times


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