PJ Media

Impounds and Illegals

Anyone surprised by this hasn’t been paying attention.

Los Angeles Police Department officers manning sobriety checkpoints will no longer, as a matter of department policy, impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. That is unless the unlicensed driver is a United States citizen or lawful resident, in which case he can say adios to his car for 30 days, as authorized by California law.

I can see you out there shaking your heads and saying, “Wait a minute . . . .”  Yes, you read it correctly: Two drivers are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Los Angeles and both are found to be sober, but lacking a driver’s license. The first, a U.S. citizen, receives a citation and stands by and watches as his car is towed away to the impound yard, where it will remain for a month so as to impress upon him that driving is a privilege, not a right, and that the people of the state of California extend that privilege only to those who have demonstrated some minimal level of proficiency as signified by possession of a driver’s license.

The second unlicensed driver, an illegal immigrant from, let’s just say Mexico, is also issued a citation, but he is given a “reasonable period of time” to give custody of his car to a licensed driver, who will presumably drive it to the unlicensed driver’s home — or just around the corner and out of the cops’ view — where the unlicensed driver will be free to jump back behind the wheel and ply the roadways until he has the misfortune of running into another one of those bothersome sobriety checkpoints, where the process can begin anew. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The change in policy was announced last week by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who called it a question of “fairness.” “I’m tired of casting the net so wide,” Beck told reporters. “This is the right thing to do. There is a fairness issue here … and we’re trying to balance the needs of all segments of our community and keep the roads safe.”

Yes, we must balance the needs of all segments of our community, including those that rightfully ought to be segments of some other community in some other country.

And it got worse. From a Los Angeles Times story that ran on March 12:

The new rules, Beck said, were an attempt to mitigate somewhat “the current reality, which is that for a vast number of people, who are a valuable asset to our community and who have very limited resources, their ability to live and work in L.A. is severely limited by their immigration status.”

Do you see? The chief thinks that illegal immigrants’ ability to live and work in Los Angeles is too “severely limited,” so he now enlists his officers in the cause of easing those limitations. Thus illegal immigrants in Los Angeles have achieved through Chief Beck’s sense of “fairness” what they could not through legislation. Almost six years ago I reported, over at National Review Online, on the efforts by then-California State Senator Gil Cedillo to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and to exempt them — and only them — from the provisions of the California Vehicle Code that authorize police officers to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. Cedillo failed to see his signature legislation enacted, but he must be pleased to see one of his goals realized through Beck’s policy decision. (Cedillo was term-limited out of the state senate last year but, displaying the tenacity unique to Democrat politicians, continues to pursue his immigrant-friendly agenda from a seat in the state assembly.)

And Chief Beck wasn’t being hyperbolic when he referred to illegal immigrants being a “vast number of people” in Los Angeles. I once attended a meeting at which Beck was asked why he had spoken out against Arizona’s then-pending S.B. 1070. “I was asked to,” he said.  And he went on to say that if a similar law were to pass in California (as unlikely a contingency as can be imagined), LAPD officers “would be doing nothing else” but dealing with immigration issues. And why would this be so?  “Because,” he said,” there are 600,000 illegal immigrants living in Los Angeles.” That would be 15 percent of the city’s 4 million residents.

He didn’t cite his source for that figure but it doesn’t strike me as an exaggeration. Indeed the Census Bureau reports that in a single zip code near downtown Los Angeles, 70 percent of the 21,000 residents are foreign born. And these are the people, as we are constantly reminded, who are “living in the shadows.” But from within those shadows, they and their enablers are able to influence a policy decision by the chief of police in the second largest city in America. Living in the shadows? More like casting a very long one.

I’ll admit that on occasion I’ve stopped an unlicensed driver and let him go without impounding his car. I’m not about to turn a carload of children out on the street when their parent seems to be an otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrant. But there is a difference between a cop on the beat cutting someone a break and the city’s police chief coming out and saying that state law is too great an imposition on illegal immigrants, then directing his officers to ignore it.

According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (.pdf), 20 percent of fatal traffic accidents in the United States involve at least one unlicensed driver, and accidents involving unlicensed drivers are more than twice as likely to cause a fatality.  It is only a matter of time before some beneficiary of Chief Beck’s new policy kills someone with a car that could have been impounded.  I’ll be curious to hear his thoughts on “fairness” then.