Politics & Policy

We Don’t Need No Stinking License

Kowtowing to the illegal alien lobby, and a looming showdown over the federal consent decree.

In previous columns (here, here, here, and here) I have written on the absurd lengths the city government of Los Angeles has gone to in acquiescing to the demands of illegal aliens. The illegal-alien lobby would of course be powerless were it not for its many sympathizers at all levels of government, and now some in the management of the Los Angeles Police Department have again demonstrated they can be just as nakedly partisan as even the most shameless of politicians.

Over the past three weeks, a minor skirmish in the battle over illegal immigration has been raging here in Los Angeles. At issue is a provision in the California Vehicle Code that gives police officers the authority to impound cars driven by unlicensed drivers. The Los Angeles Police Department impounds more than 40,000 such cars every year.

But on August 21, under the dubious premise of following the mandates of a two-year-old court case, LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger issued a memo throughout the department instructing officers to cease making these impounds in most circumstances. In Miranda v. City of Cornelius, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a particular seizure of a car in Cornelius, Oregon, was unwarranted. Jorge Miranda, a licensed driver, had been teaching his wife Irene to drive when they were stopped by an officer from the Cornelius Police Department. After discovering that Irene Miranda had no driver’s license, the officer ordered the car to be impounded pursuant to a city ordinance. The case made its way through the courts before coming before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, which ruled unanimously that because Irene Miranda had already parked the car in the driveway of their home, and because her husband had a valid license, the seizure of the car could not be justified.

There is scant foundation for the LAPD’s impound moratorium to be found in the Miranda decision. In fact, the decision clearly states that impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers is justified in most circumstances. “The violation of a traffic regulation,” wrote Judge Ronald M. Gould, “justifies impoundment of a vehicle if the driver is unable to remove the vehicle from a public location without continuing its illegal operation.” Most law enforcement agencies in California, including the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol, have continued impounding cars as the vehicle code prescribes.

Nonetheless, the Miranda case offered the open-borders lobby here in Southern California a ray of hope in their efforts to end the practice of impounding cars driven by unlicensed drivers, a substantial number of whom are presumably illegal aliens. Los Angeles city councilman Jose Huizar, an outspoken advocate for illegal aliens, asked the city attorney and police department to study the matter, but he was less than careful with the truth in doing so. “According to the [Miranda] case, you cannot constitutionally impound a car because the driver does not have a driver’s license,” Huizar told the Los Angeles Times. “So I sought that clarification. I wanted to ensure the city complies with the law.”

We’ll give Councilman Huizar the benefit of the doubt in concluding he was simply misinformed on the Miranda decision and not, as the more cynical among us might suspect, lying through his teeth. In the present controversy Huizar joins a long list of local and state politicians who have sought to grant illegal aliens driving priveleges in California. There have been several legislative attempts to do just that (discussed here, in 2005), but all of them were at some point derailed short of enactment. So, where does one go when the democratic process fails to deliver the goods? Why, to the courts, of course, where even causes soundly rejected by voters and legislators can find new life before sympathetic judges who, by virtue of their exalted positions, are far more enlightened than any group of simpering politicians or the rabbling proles who elected them.

But in the Miranda decision, even the famously left-leaning Ninth Circuit came up well short of granting illegal aliens an unfettered right to drive in California. So, if the basis for this new LAPD policy is not to be found in the statutes or case law, what motivated Assistant Chief Paysinger to issue his memo? The answer is simple: politics and ambition. Paysinger is, in fact if not in title, the second-in-command to Chief William Bratton in the LAPD, a position Bratton (but almost no one else) seems to think he is qualified for. Bratton himself, newly reappointed for a second five-year term as LAPD chief, has for many months been looking over the fence for his next job, hoping for a posting in the next presidential administration. To this end he has been playing both sides of the political fence, simultaneously cozying up to both Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. If Bratton were to succeed in his ambitions, Paysinger would hope to succeed him as chief of the LAPD (an outcome we in the lower echelons of the department would dread).

And to be appointed to that job, Paysinger — or anyone else aspiring to the job — must first demonstrate sufficient sympathy for illegal aliens to win the support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. We have now witnessed, in his no-impound policy, Paysinger’s first official gesture of that sympathy. More will surely follow.

Interestingly, though Paysinger enacted the moratorium without the consent of his bosses on the civilian police commission, Chief Bratton sought to throw this political hot potato right into their laps, announcing last week that he would ask the commission to rule on the impound policy. But in another change of course, Bratton announced on Tuesday that the department would resume impounding cars driven by unlicensed drivers just as they did before this three-week period of confusion.


We may be seven years into a Republican administration, but Janet Reno’s boot is still planted squarely on the LAPD’s neck. In 2000, under pressure from Reno’s Justice Department and her assistant attorney general for civil rights, Bill Lann Lee, the city of Los Angeles entered into a consent decree aimed at curbing the perceived abuses associated with what became known as the Rampart corruption scandal.

The passing of those seven years has served to prove that the corruption the Justice Department sought to curb was limited to a handful of officers at a single police station. A stain on the LAPD, to be sure, but one that scarcely warranted the heavy-handed intervention of the federal government. William Bratton may be the LAPD’s chief, but today the department is essentially run by auditors, with compliance with the Byzantine mandates of the consent decree often taking precedence over fighting crime.

The department devotes hundreds of officers and spends millions of dollars in its pursuit of compliance, a waste of resources noted in 2003 by Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald. She wrote in the Los Angeles Times of the time and money spent on the consent decree and the apparent impossibility of full compliance. “[Compliance monitor Michael] Cherkasky engages in the most unforgiving interpretation of deadlines,” Mac Donald wrote, “with no apparent awareness that the department occasionally has to track down a criminal or two.”

Things have not improved since then, either. And even now, a single provision in the consent decree may soon be paid for in the lives claimed by gang violence. Paragraph 132 of the consent decree reads, “The LAPD shall require regular and periodic financial disclosures by all LAPD officers and other LAPD employees who routinely handle valuable contraband or cash. The LAPD shall periodically audit a random sample of such disclosures to ensure their accuracy. When necessary, the LAPD shall require the necessary waivers from such officers.”

The officers affected by this paragraph have been determined to be those who work in gang and narcotics units, though most of them seldom if ever handle significant amounts of either contraband or cash. This provision has not yet been implemented, but the federal judge overseeing the consent decree’s enforcement is insisting that the department move to obtain these officers’ financial information. Most, if not all, have said they would accept transfers to other duties rather than comply with this demand. Thus the stage is set for a showdown that could see gang violence escalate to levels unseen since former LAPD chief Bernard Parks disbanded the city’s gang units in the wake of the Rampart scandal. What followed was a period of bloodshed that took years to stem. L.A.’s gangs went virtually unchecked, and in 2002, when Parks was finally sacked as chief, the city saw 647 murders. This year, with the LAPD’s gang and narcotics units well reestablished, the city is on pace to have fewer than 400.

It’s not that these officers have anything to hide. Their resistance to financial disclosure is not rooted in corruption but rather in practicality. They have been given no assurances as to who will have access to their financial information, so they are fearful of being subjected to identity theft or worse should their personal data fall into the wrong hands. Also, they know that if there were a corrupt cop in their midst, it is unlikely he would be exposed through an examination of his tax returns and other official information. Any cop clever enough to be a crook these days is clever enough to hide his money where it won’t be easily found.

The federal consent decree remains as an unneeded and wasteful albatross around the LAPD’s neck, one that devours police resources and ultimately results in more people falling victim to crime. The next attorney general should see that it’s brought to an end as quickly as possible.

– Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.


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