Suppose as you read this that Officer Dunphy is out on patrol somewhere in Los Angeles. As he keeps an eye out for signs of crime and villainy, he also seeks to maintain good order on the roads through enforcement of the traffic laws. And what should he see directly in front of him but a flagrant violation of those laws, to wit, someone driving 45 miles per hour in a 25-miles-per-hour zone on a quiet residential street. Officer Dunphy pulls over the errant driver and, after cautiously approaching the car (because you never know), discovers that the driver speaks no English, only Spanish.
This is no impediment to Officer Dunphy, as he has learned a good deal of Spanish over the years, a necessity for police officers working in many parts of Southern California. So, in the driver’s native tongue, Officer Dunphy asks him for his driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, all of which California law requires him to carry. The driver replies that he has none of these things, and that the car belongs to a friend of his whom he knows only as “Francisco.”
And now the question: What should Officer Dunphy do now? Of course he issues a citation to the driver for the speeding violation as well as for being unlicensed and uninsured, but what should happen to the car? California law allows for its impoundment for 30 days, which in this case would serve as a deterrent both to our driver, for being unlicensed, and to Francisco, for allowing the unlicensed man to drive.
“Yes, Officer Dunphy,” you say, “summon the tow truck immediately. Unlicensed drivers are a menace and the full weight of the law should be brought to bear upon them.”
Ah, but if that is indeed your response, you haven’t been paying attention to the news here in Los Angeles. What I must do, under the terms of the LAPD’s Special Order 7 (PDF), is allow the unlicensed driver to contact Francisco and allow him time to come to the scene and, assuming he has a driver’s license, take charge of the car. If Francisco does not have a license, he must be allowed to ask someone who does have one to come and take the car. In the event no qualified person is able to come, I can still impound the car, but only for one day, not thirty.
You see, the law authorizing police to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers was enacted in the bad old days, when legislators and police officers alike considered it a duty to discourage and punish affronts to public safety. This of course was before enlightened Democrats, who now enjoy super-majorities in both houses of the California legislature, set to the task of making the state more hospitable to illegal immigrants. Under a law recently passed, illegal immigrants in California will soon be granted driver’s licenses, so the question of impounding their cars when they’re found to be driving without a license will become a bit trickier. But you can bet there will be those who will look to cut them even more slack than the new law requires.
Among those surely will be LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, under whom Special Order 7 came to be implemented. Appointed by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chief Beck was and remains a willing servant in Villaraigosa’s effort to make Los Angeles more friendly to immigrants, legal or not. Special Order 7 has been challenged in court, both by the police officers labor union and by Judicial Watch, and in August a Superior Court judge ruled that it was preempted by state law. This forced Beck to rescind the order, but last week an appeals court set aside that ruling, allowing Beck once again to implement his order. Beck has called it an issue of “fairness,” saying that the fees attendant to lengthy impounds were too high for many illegal immigrants to pay, resulting in the permanent loss of their cars.