Council opposes impound intitiative on November’s ballot
LAKEWOOD – City Council Monday went on the record against Ballot Issue 300, which would require police to impound the vehicles of unlicensed drivers.
The vote came a week after an LPD presentation that projected the impound initiative would cost the city far more than it would recover through fines and fees if voters approve it in November.
The ballot issue arose from a citizen-initiated ordinance floated by Daniel Hayes, a resident of unincorporated Jefferson County, and would require police to seize and tow the vehicle of any unlicensed driver they stop. If approved by voters, the measure also would require the owner of the vehicle to post a $2,500 bond that would be surrendered if the same vehicle is seized for the same reason within a year. It also would impose a $200 impoundment fee as well as impound bonds that could cost as much as $400 a year.
If an officer determines through a records search that a driver has a valid license but does not have it with them, the driver could be issued a summons requiring them to furnish police with the actual license within 10 days of the traffic stop. Otherwise, under Ballot Issue 300, the vehicle would be subject to seizure and impoundment.
Current LPD policy requires impoundment in cases of emergency, at the request of the vehicle’s owner, when the vehicle is evidence in a case or was used in the commission of a crime certain parking violations, in cases in which the driver is arrested and when a vehicle is believed to be stolen or is inoperable and poses a danger to other traffic.
The existing policy “encourages” impoundment of cars of unlicensed drivers as well as those whose license is suspended and those driving with neither proof of insurance nor a drivers license, according to Division Chief Michelle Tovrea who leads the department’s Support Services Division, who last week addressed City Council on the measure’s potential impacts.
“Obviously, this shows that there is some discretion involved with what the agents have to do out there, Tovrea told Council Oct. 11. “It’s not necessarily that they have a checklist to follow, but there’s things they have been taught … to get to what is the proper thing to do with a vehicle.”
Voter approval of the ballot issue also could double the number of vehicles impounded by Lakewood police each year, from about 3,000 to an estimated 6,000 impoundments a year along with the associated added burden of more police time, a more complicated records process and additional cases in municipal court, Patrol Division Commander Ed Loar told Council at kast week’s study session
Loar has been compiling data about the proposed ordinance for more than 18 months, since shortly after Hayes began a petition drive to get the proposal before City Council.
“We would have to do a 365-day tracking system of vehicles,” Loar told Council.
The expanded tracking system would required to accommodate the 10-day summonses as well as handling reclaimed vehicles when bonds are posted and Loar said the ordinance would require additional personnel to handle processing and collecting bonds and fees as well as data entry.
“Collection of data and maintaining those records is one issue. And, as I mentioned, 3,000 additional impounds a year, in and of itself, is daunting,” Loar said.
The turnover of vehicles in an impoundment lot is another issue that concerns Loar, but perhaps the greatest cost would be the additional time uniformed police would have to spend processing the additional thousand of vehicle seizure he predicts approval of the ordinance would cause. The department estimates mandatory vehicle seizures would require an additional 2,250 hours of police work a year, the equivalent of 1.2 full time patrol officers.
Mayor Bob Murphy, who suggested the resolution opposing the ballot issue approved 10-0 by Council earlier this week, said the proposal is problematic, noting “the Police Deaprtment had nothing good to say about it.”
“One of the many things we have learned over the last several minutes is that this ordinance, at least as it’s written, seems to produce a whole lot of questions and most of them are unanswered at this point,” Murphy said after Oct. 11 Loar’s presentation.
And Hayes had little good to say about Council in his comments before Monday’s vote.
My daughter lives and votes in Lakewood and I am concerned about her safety,” Hayes said. “Council doesn’t appear to be interested in the safety of people on the streets.
Hayes also chided Council about taking an official vote to back a political issue.
“This vote you are about to take would not have been allowed 10 years ago, it would have been considered electioneering,”
Haye’s proposal raised hackles at City Hall in late September, when city officials blasted his use of a photo of a Lakewood police car as a vague backdrop on a postcard mailed to Lakewood voters urging approval of Ballot Issue 300.
In a strongly worded statement released by a city spokeswoman, the City said it was investigating “whether the mailing of the misleading and potentially fraudulent postcard violated any state elections law.”
And City attorney Tim Cox told the measure’s author, Daniel Hayes of Arvada, to stop mail the campaign postcard and to take action to inform voters that the use of the photo was unauthorized. The spokeswoman said Cox’s demand came after city residents began calling “to ask whether the City paid for or prepared the mailing or whether the photograph reflects the City’s endorsement of the ballot measure.”
“Lakewood had no role in the production or delivery of the campaign literature, has not taken a position on the ballot question, and did not authorize the use of the photograph of the police cruiser in any campaign literature,” according to the statement.
Hayes said he had contacted the print shop that is handling the postcards, but was told all of them already had been delivered to the Post Office.
The campaign mailing in question is a postcard that clearly shows it was distributed by “Lakewood Safe Streets CMTE Dan Hayes.”
Hayes said he never expected the picture used as a backdrop on the postcard would cause such a dust-up.
“It’s kind of like the American flag, certain free-speech protections apply,” Hayes said. “I don’t know why a police car would have been protected under all these laws. If I committed a crime, they probably would have charged me with it.”
Hayes also said he doesn’t believe the picture would cause anyone to believe the city supports his initiative.
“We are quite upset with this attempt to confuse and mislead the voters into believing that the City Council or the Police Department has endorsed the measure when neither is true,” Mayor Bob Murphy said in the statement.
City Hall distributed the strongly-worded statement in a press release and posted it on the city’s website. The statement also suggested Haye’s mailing could constitute a violation of Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.
The postcard claims accidents caused by unlicensed drivers “kill 5-7 Lakewood drivers annually; (and) cause 6,900 accidents.” No source is cited.
Lakewood police said those figures are not accurate, noting that the “6,900” accidents Hayes claims involve unlicensed drivers far exceeds the city’s total number of wrecks. Police records indicate Lakewood officers investigated nearly 1,500 fewer accidents in 2009.
“According to the Police Department, the statistics on the back of that postcard have no foundation in fact and, in many cases, are completely inaccurate,” Murphy said Monday.
Hayes told the Edge he used deduction, taking statewide figures then applying the city’s total population to calculate some of the figures he used on the postcard. Other figures, he said, came from a Denver City Council member.
“Nothing was put on there that I didn’t think was true,” he said.
Hayes also said City Council is focusing on the wrong issue in opposing the ballot issue.
“What they haven’t talked about is the benefit to people injured by unlicensed drivers. They are not looking out for its impact on people,” Hayes said.
Nearly two years ago, Hayes began circulating petitions calling for the city to enact the ordinance, enlisting two Lakewood residents to be the “Petitioner’s Committee” in order to get the issue on the city’s ballot. Because he is not a Lakewood voter, Hayes could not circulate the petitions on his own. The Lakewood initiative is one of three impound initiative efforts Hayes organized. The other two were in Aurora and Denver.
The measure never made it to the ballot in Aurora and was rejected by Denver voters.
Some opponents believe Hayes’ proposal targets illegal aliens, primarily Hispanics. Others are concerned the measure would eliminate the discretion now afforded to police in such cases and could severely punish drivers who simply forgot their license. They also say it would be too costly for many police agencies and could divert officers from more pressing duties.
Lakewood police officers, represented by Police Local 303, have approved a resolution opposing approval of the initiative, saying they believe “it is unsafe and bad public policy to force law enforcement to wait for tow trucks, fill out paperwork, inventory the vehicle and its contents, and potentially neglect other responsibilities which may be more important in protecting the public.”
The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes the proposal. A number of local business groups also oppose the initiative, including the West Chamber of Commerce that serves Jefferson County and the Alameda Gateway Community Association.