LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck is under fire for throwing his support behind the idea that illegal immigrants should be able to obtain a driver's license.
"I believe that we should license undocumented immigrants in the state of California; I think it makes motoring safer," Beck told CBS2.
According to the state, there are one million unlicensed drivers in California.
An unlicensed driver is five times more likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than any other driver, the Automobile Club reports.
Beck said allowing illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, which would be non-resident or provisional, would make them safer drivers and less likely to flee from the scene of an accident. The police chief also plans to address concerns that it could make it easier for terrorists to go undetected.
"Having a de facto class of illegal drivers all that does is insure that they don't get insurance, insure that they don't have their cars registered to them, insure that they aren't responsible when they get in a traffic accident," Beck said.
For years, Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo has sponsored a bill that would make it legal for undocumented residents to have a driver's license in California. In 2003, Governor Gray Davis signed the bill into law but it provoked such public outrage that it led to the recall of the Republican politician. Subsequently, Cedillo and his other supporters withdrew the bill.
"If Jerry Brown wants to end up the same way as Gray Davis then he'll support Charlie Beck's plan," said Mike Spence of the California Republican Assembly. "It would absolutely be used for identification purposes. You can't have a two-tiered system that works that way."
According to L.A. County figures, nearly 110,000 tickets were issued to unlicensed drivers.
"I look at this almost like we wouldn't want to deny someone health care if they have a communicable disease because they were here illegally because then they'd spread it around and we'd get it," Dan Rosenberg, a driver safety activist whose son was killed by an unlicensed driver in 2010, told CBS2. "So in this case, I'd much rather have somebody learn how to drive and reduce the number of accidents than to let them keep driving without licenses, without any accountability and continue killing people."
However, many Angelenos don't support the proposed licenses.
"I don't know where Beck's coming from. I can't believe that he's our chief with that attitude," Michael Gillespie said. "Illegals are illegals. I can agree that, sure, they probably won't run from an accident if they do have a license and aren't afraid of being arrested, but, no, I don't agree with him at all."
Beck is already battling criticism from public safety groups, including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which are fighting another LAPD proposal that would keep unlicensed drivers from facing a 30-day impound.
"I think this is a democracy where we have conversations about laws that we make. I'm certainly in a position where I have an opinion about public safety and I'm making that opinion known," Beck said.
The current policy calls for drivers who are stopped without a license to have their cars immediately impounded, which can cost as much as $1,500.
The plan would offer a reprieve to individuals who were not involved in a serious accident and whose licenses had not been suspended or revoked.
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