In response to complaints that undocumented immigrants were being unfairly targeted, the Los Angeles Police Department is changing a policy that called for impounding the cars of drivers who could not produce a driver's license.
Calling it "the right thing to do," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he decided to ease the rules for impounding cars of unlicensed drivers at sobriety checkpoints after immigrant rights groups brought up the issue in recent meetings, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Previous protocols called for officers at checkpoints to impound a car whenever the driver did not have a valid license whether or not the driver was drunk.
Under the new guidelines, police will attempt to contact the registered owner of a stopped vehicle, and if that owner is a licensed driver who can respond to the checkpoint in a "reasonable period" the car will be released to them. The unlicensed driver will still be cited.
Immigration advocacy groups said the old rules disproportionately targeted undocumented immigrants, who are not able to obtain licenses legally in most states.
Once a vehicle is impounded, law enforcement agencies often require it to remain locked up for at least a month and charge the owner hefty fees to release it.
The LAPD checkpoint policy had "stuck in my craw as one of the things we weren't doing the right way," Beck told the Times. "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."
The change, which the department announced Friday, is likely to anger groups that support strict enforcement of immigration laws. The Times said efforts to contact representatives of several of those groups for comment were unsuccessful.
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."
This is based on a story by The Associated Press.