Public Safety Committee Acknowledges the Hit and Run Crisis, LAPD Not So Much.

Council Members Mitch O'Farrell, Joe Buscaino, Mitch Englander and Mike Bonin listen to testimony from last week's hearing. Photo: Don Ward

In Los Angeles, according to LAPD crime statistics for 2011, 1273 cyclists and pedestrians were victims of hit and run crimes. In other words every single day, 3 or 4 cyclists and pedestrians become hit and run victims within Los Angeles city limits. Of these, 26 people walking or biking died as a result of the collision in which a motorist fled the scene. Another 10 victims were killed while in cars.

Mind numbing.

Because LAPD traffic division response time can typically take an hour or more to respond to collisions and with LAPD officers known to actively discourage filing reports for minor or no injury hit and runs, there is no telling what the true extent of the crisis is. Years of public comments and protests by cycling and pedestrian advocates including a focused Police Commission public comment action last year have only begun to garner the kind of attention needed to begin to solve this.

Last Friday, members of the LAPD came before the Public Safety Committee to present their report on the extent of LA’s hit and run crisis. The hearing followed a request by Councilman Buscaino in the wake of an LA Weekly exposé last December that brought light to this staggering reality on our streets. Based on the language of that report… the LAPD leadership does not yet appear ready to tackle the issue.

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Several members of the “all powerful bicycle lobby,” including myself, made the early morning trip to City Hall thanks to a special LA Bike Trains group ride. Having released the report to the police commission weeks before we already knew the report was a disappointment in many ways. But this was a chance to hear what the Council Members thought and to deliver another round of public comment.

Having attended many disappointing City Council meetings over the years I had no reason to feel optimistic about this one. The formula usually goes something like… livable streets advocates show up with pitch forks, LAPD / LADOT make excuses / naysay / not feasible, politicians feign interest / read their Blackberrys and / or Tom LaBonge talks about critical mass and outlaw bike riders.

But this meeting was different – stacked with freshmen councilmembers – it struck me as a bit of a sea change.

Not only were these Council Members engaged, they were speaking nuanced livable streets language. At one point Council Member Bonin corrected LAPD Deputy Chief Downing for invoking Critical Mass as a causation for hit and run crimes stating: “The typical hit and run victim is not riding on Critical Mass.” This was immediately received with applause from the audience. Given the chance, I would have politely whispered to Chief Downing that the LAPD has been escorting a very peaceful amicable Critical Mass now for years… but I digress.

Audio of the agenda item:

It was clear that the committee members were looking for answers and the critical first step is acknowledging the problem. Instead, the report’s slicing and dicing statistical methodology compared Los Angeles to other cities essentially proclaiming “Look! they have a problem too!” I kept thinking to myself when was the last time the ole “But everyone else is doing it too!” excuse got someone out of a speeding ticket?

Moving forward, while it wasn’t made clear what the next steps would be, what I did find promising about the meeting was that all of the members acknowledged that Hit and Run crime is not only out of control in Los Angeles but more importantly that it should be elevated to the same urgency as other violent crime. Cyclist and pedestrians advocates have been asking for this distinction for years and it seems like the city of Los Angeles is finally-almost-kind-of on the verge of acknowledging it through official means.

Before retiring the item Councilman Englander moved to:

Adopt LAPD recommendations
Remove the word accident from hit and run reports
Gather better data and report EVERY hit and run crime
Report back on additional Enforcement options

These are encouraging first steps… and 3-4 people riding their bikes and walking in Los Angeles today and tomorrow and the next and the next and the next need the city to continue to step it up. Next week, I will post up some thoughts on what I think the city can do right now to quicken the pace.

Notable Quotes from the meeting:

“There still has to be accountability on the part of the bicyclists.” -Deputy Chief Michael Downing
(QUESTION: How exactly does a hit and run victim work to become accountable while lying abandoned on the pavement?)

“We want to have more clearance on robberies than we do hit and runs.” -Deputy Chief Michael Downing

“There is no such thing as a hit and run accident, there is no such thing as a murder accident or a child rape accident… it is a crime.” – Ann, cyclist

“Driving is a priviledge not a right, and the privilege is thoroughly abused.” – TJ Flexor, cyclist

“A hit and run accident is also a violent crime and I personally want to see it elevated in status.”
– Councilmember Mike Bonin

“My son was not killed by the hit, he was killed by the run.” -Don Rosenberg

“As a father I take this very seriously.” – Councilmember Mitch Englander

“The trend is to get more people out of cars and walking and biking everywhere. We need to protect vulnerable users of the roads.” – Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell

  • Dennis Hindman

    There was at least one hit and run by a car driver at the last CicLAvia event on Wilshire Blvd. The bicyclist was seriously injured. Would the LAPD have looked at this differently if someone was hit by a bullet fired at CicLAvia rather than driving a car into a bicyclist?

    Deputy chief Downing mentioned at the meeting that the rate of motor vehicle collisions with bicycles is due to a rising rate of bicycling and the need for better traffic engineering. The Netherlands has had a falling rate of motor vehicle collisions with bicycles and a rising rate of cycling since the early 1970’s. Traffic engineering plays a large part in this, but there also needs to be more police enforcement involved.

    People who walk or bicycle should not be treated as so much road kill by law enforcement. Human beings are not wild animals or pets. Nor are people afforded a exoskeleton to protect them as those traveling inside a safety cell of a motor vehicle are.

    Fatalities and injuries for people traveling in cars have dropped since car manufacturers have added automatic safety belts, airbags, safety glass and safety cells.

    Unfortunately, pedestrians and bicyclists are at the mercy of law enforcement and traffic engineering for making great strides in improving the rate of getting hit by motor vehicles.

  • Roadblock

    This is a civil rights issue at its core. Basically a privileged class of road user being prioritized over those who choose less expensive means to travel in the public space that we ALL pay for. Once the cycling and pedestrian advocates realize this and get together to rally around this with BRU level aggression, change will happen.

    We would do well to study exactly what methods to BRU employed to successfully sue the MTA.

  • ubrayj02

    I love how the LAPD is being held responsible for the problems an irresponsible LADOT and a general car-centric attitude that LA politicians have had for at least 2 or 3 generations. The blame lies with the road designers and the political leaders. The LAPD wastes loads of time dealing with traffic crashes that are baked into the system we have. How are they going to bring charges against people who can plausibly deny they were present at the time of the crash? Why is getting a license to drive so god damned easy after you’ve assaulted someone with a car?

    These are questions to be posed to legislators, not lawmen.

    I love a political shitstorm as much as the next person, but we really cannot dump all of this in the lap of the LAPD.

    Please, don’t be fooled by the politicians – they are the ones who can fix this system but they have to have the guts to go against the all mighty spectre of the motoring voter in LA (an apathetic and disconnected non-entity in modern politics, but whatever) and the dashboard op-ed boards in all the local papers of note. And Syd Mead.

  • ubrayj02

    There was already a suit against the city for not having suitable sidewalks – that settlement forced the City of Sacramento to drastically alter its capital improvement plans. The City of LA settled with the claimants, but the results are questionable going forward.

    We need to get serious about this issue, but it is a zero sum game – and we’re losing out to multi-billion highway projects at the expense of lives, bodies, and property.

  • Don W

    Good point and 100% agree but that doesnt excuse the LAPD for ignoring the crimes and not reporting them. It doesnt excuse the LAPD for collaborating with LADOT in sneaking around and raising speed limits…

  • 1Kroop

    Don–LOVED this article. I was wondering–where did you get that screenshotted stat of total hit and runs from ’11? I’ve been running all over the LAPD site to try and get stats on traffic ‘accidents’, fatalities, hit and runs, for the last ten years and can’t find anything!

  • don

    thanks. That screen shot was from a comstat report that was prepared for members of the LAPD bike task force. They’ve since specifically barred these stats from being released to the public unless they are acquired through “risk management.” I’ve never successfully acquired a report of this detail since despite numerous requests.

  • calwatch

    Don, you need to use SWITRS data, which is available to the public. Not LAPD data which is internal and may have strings attached.

  • guest

    cara mengobati keputihan gatal is probably the right way to handle this case and hopefully such cases quickly resolved.