Hundreds of residents, most from the San Fernando Valley, voiced their opposition to a proposed policy change that would stop police from impounding cars strictly because the driver is not licensed.
Of the 45 people who commented on the possible change at Tuesday's special meeting of the L.A. Board of Police Commissioners, the overwhelming majority favored leaving the current policy in place.
At times, passions ruled the meeting, a rare evening session attended by all five police commissioners, Police Chief Charlie Beck and city council members Mitch Englander and Dennis Zine.
Englander was the only official to venture an opinion on the subject. If the impound policy is changed to give unlicensed drivers a pass, "every one of us is less safe and our families are less safe," Englander said to thunderous applause. "I cannot sit by quietly on this."
Don Rosenberg told the commissioners that his 25-year-old son was killed in San Francisco by an unlicensed driver who had been caught once before without a license. "You have the audacity to call this a policy change?" he asked Beck, earning the night's only standing ovation.
Speakers were limited to two minutes but Rosenberg refused to yield, prompting commission chairman Richard Drooyan to request Rosenberg to stop. "What a disgrace you are," Rosenberg shot back. Drooyan called a brief recess to restore order.
At the start of the public comments, Drooyan told the standing-room only audience at St. Nicholas Church, 9501 Balboa Blvd., that commissioners would listen to comments but not discuss the impound policy because it was not an item of business on the commission agenda.
"Please don't take that as a sign of disrespect," Drooyan said. "Nothing has been implemented."
For many who came to protest any change in the impoundment policy, the issue at least partly involved being too lenient on illegal immigrants. "Every time someone's running for reelection, the illegals get carte blanche," one man said. "If you're here illegally, you have no respect for the law," a woman added.
Some speakers told of friends or family members who were struck by cars driven by unlicensed drivers resulting in permanent injuries and chronic pain. Some said the impound policy is not about immigration but should be applied to all regardless of ethnicity. Others said that if police stopped impounding cars of unlicensed drivers, they would in effect be encouraging illegal activity and acting contrary to state law.
At least two speakers credited KFI radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou for stirring up interest and encouraging attendance at the meeting.
Seven spoke in favor of greater lenience for unlicensed drivers, some going as far as calling members of the audience racists. A man who identified himself as a history teacher referred to "xenophobia or hate in this room."
Carlos Montes of the Southern California Immigrant Coalition said that illegal immigrants are safer drivers because they have so much more to lose if they are involved in an accident. Another speaker said impounding cars was "unfair" to unlicensed drivers who need their vehicles. "These are human beings and they have a right to work, OK?" he said.
The commission used the first hour of the two-and-a-half hour meeting to hear reports from Beck and Valley commanders on the decrease in crime last year in Los Angeles, in general, and the Valley, in particular. Serious crime in the Devonshire Division was down 14.8 percent, the most of any Valley division, said LAPD Capt. Chris Pitcher.