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Gatto and Englander Stump State Legislation for Hit-and-Run Alert System

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes. Behind Gatto are, left to right, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, two LAPD representatives, L.A. Councilmember Mitch Englander, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At a press conference on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall yesterday, state and local legislators joined forces with local non-profits to draw attention to efforts to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. The press conference focused on A.B. 47 – a proposal to create a new emergency alert system to notify the public to help apprehend hit-and-run suspects. The alert system would use existing state-controlled sign boards on state-controlled freeways, so it will require state legislation.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto enumerated the gruesome hit-and-run statistics: 20,000 hit-and-run collisions take place in L.A. County each year; 4,000 of these result in death or serious bodily injury; only 20 percent of fatal hit-and-run perpetrators are arrested. Gatto relayed the story of a similar alert system in Colorado which resulted in the city of Denver increasing their apprehension rate from 20 percent to 75 percent.

Gatto is the author of A.B. 47 and also A.B. 1532 which would suspend drivers licenses of perpetrators of hit-and-runs. Both of these bills passed the State Assembly in June, and now await State Senate approval. If A.B. 47 passes the Senate by the end of August, and is approved by the Governor, then hit-and-run alerts could begin in January 2015.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander called L.A. hit-and-run crimes “an epidemic of biblical proportions.” Englander emphasized that fleeing a crash scene should never be called an “accident.”  Englander was one of the proponents of official L.A. City support for hit-and-run alerts in concept (approved), and for A.B. 47 specifically (introduced, pending council approval.)

Hit-and-run survivor Damian Kevitt emphasized that Gatto’s bills may not end these crimes, but fear of apprehension and penalties could create “a moment of thought where drivers think about what they’re doing.” Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins emphasized that these hit-and-run proposals key to creating a culture of greater street safety for everyone.

With gruesome hit-and-runs taking lives daily on L.A. streets and sidewalks, passage of these proposals is urgently needed.

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LAPD Crackdowns and Complete Streets: City’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee Puts its Foot Down

The city' pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendence is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

The city’ pedestrian advisory committee has had trouble attracting crowds, but even this medium-sized attendance is an improvement and a sign that Livable Streets advocacy is starting to include pedestrian safety as a major issue. Photo: Roger Rudick. Caption: Damien Newton

Thursday afternoon, in a fluorescent-lit conference room on the third floor of the east building of City Hall, Sean Karmody, a police sergeant, addressed over 20 people at the Los Angeles City Pedestrian Advisory Committee about jaywalking tickets. He stressed that police traffic enforcement’s “biggest priority is to reduce hit and runs.” He also said of the 500,000 or so tickets issued each year, only five percent are given to pedestrians.

PAC- and just outside--LAPD car parks on bike lane--of course

As LAPD representatives talked the importance of safety for all transportation modes, an LAPD car blocked the bike lane outside of the meeting. Photo: Roger Rudick

But Brigham Yen, pedestrian advocate and editor of “DTLA Rising,” wasn’t having it. “Cops in LA grew up driving. They look at crowds of people crossing the street in downtown and all they think is: `they’re stopping those cars from making a right turn!’” he said. “Instead, they should be celebrating the rebirth of a pedestrian environment.” Miguel Luna, representative for CD #13, complained that pedestrian tickets target minorities.

Another attendee remarked that LAPD isn’t part of the solution to better pedestrian and cycling access; it’s part of the problem. Just outside the conference room, there were police and LADOT cars on the bike lane on Los Angeles street. Karmody said its good to make the department aware of such infractions.

Jennifer Charles, a 43-year-old architect from Sherman Oaks, represents CD-4, which includes parts of Hollywood and the Valley. Originally from Virginia, she lived in New York City for five years. “I loved not having a car,” she said. In 1997, she came to LA to study architecture. “LA doesn’t have to be New York, but there’s no excuse for it not being more walkable and bikeable.

Despite their advocacy, half of the attendees drove to the meeting; City Hall is only a few hundred feet from the Civic Center subway station. City Planner Claire Bowin gave a presentation on the mobility plan and the “Complete Streets” initiative. She said some streets will be re-designed to promote pedestrians, bikes or buses, but many will remain primarily for “vehicles.” Read more…

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There’s Still Plenty of Questions About the “Eric Garcetti Crash”

From the Times's security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor's SUV but barely the crash victim.

From the Times’s security cameras you can see the quickly arriving squad car, the Mayor’s SUV but barely the crash victim.

The LAPD, Mayor’s Office and to some extent the media are downplaying the significance of yesterday’s afternoon car crash in Downtown Los Angeles involving the Mayor’s SUV. Driven by an LAPD officer, the vehicle was driven into a pedestrian inside of a crosswalk causing her hospitalization. The the officer and his passengers were traveling east on 2nd Street towards City Hall when the crash occurred at Spring Street.

A video of the crash was taken by L.A. Times security cameras, but the resolution is so grainy and the actual collision occurs off-screen.

The LAPD dismisses the crash as “minor.” And with reports already streaming in that the woman was “crossing against the signal” it is possible that the city will use this crash as justification for its widely panned pedestrian stings.

But a look at the facts of the case show that instead of this being a lesson about safely crossing the street, it could turn into a lesson for the LAPD on how it desperately needs to improve the way the department investigates crashes. Here’s a rundown of some problems with the investigation as reported:

Problem 1: The LAPD Blamed the Victim Before Completing the Investigation

From the Los Angeles Times:

Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the woman appeared to be crossing 2nd against the light when the accident occurred, but further investigation was needed.

The LAPD biasses its own investigation by stating the “probable” cause of the crash without all of the needed information. We don’t know if the officer had a chance to speak with the victim in the crash or what further investigation was needed. We do know that the officer assigned blame to the largest media outlet in the city before the investigation was completed.

We also know…

The Times video showed only part of the scene because of the camera’s angle. It appears to show the pedestrian was struck as Garcetti’s SUV was passing a pickup truck stopped in the crosswalk. Read more…

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Why Is Hitting a Car Still Considered More Serious Than Hitting a Person?

How do we get LAPD to treat crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians as seriously as those involving cars? For the record, the LAPD claimed repeatedly and publicly that this Hummer had full license plates. Photo: Luis

On Sunday, July 28, I was playing in the back yard with Sammy when we heard a horrible sound of twisting metal come from the front of the house. Grabbing my phone, I ran out of the house to see if anyone was hurt in what was surely another car crash at the corner of Federal and National. A dazed looking man wobbled out of a truck, and a less woozy looking man was already out of his car walking over to the truck. Not seeing anyone on the phone yet, I pulled mine and called 911. Moments later, I heard sirens. When the firetrucks arrived, I went back in the house. Everyone was fine and the authorities arrived.

Later that night, an LAPD investigator called me back wanting to know if I had witnessed the crash. I had not. He thanked me for calling and I wished him luck.

To their credit, the LAPD was taking the crash seriously. Good for them.

Sadly, this doesn’t happen everytime there is a crash. At Biking in L.A., Ted Rogers recounts the story a Melanie Freeland, a bicyclist that was hit by a car earlier this week right in front of two LAPD officers. While both officers agreed that the vehicle driver made an illegal turn, the Department is not issuing a ticket. The frustrated cyclist followed up with the LAPD on the phone and immediately after the crash, but can’t get the Department to take her case seriously.

I called the Central Traffic Division and asked to speak with the Watch Commander on duty yesterday. As I probably should have guessed it was [the Sergeant she’d spoken to at the scene].  I explained to her my phone conversation with [the desk officer] and she stated she did not know why he would state it was a rear end incident when it wasn’t.  We talked at length about why a citation would not be issued for this offense.  She stated that in order for a traffic citation to be issued two criteria must be met. An LAPD officer must witness the incident and be trained in traffic laws (taken the special course in traffic). Because the [traffic officer] didn’t witness the incident it did not meet the two criteria. Secondly, the officer who did witness the incident is not trained in traffic laws, so again it does not meet the criteria.  Thus it is now my understanding, due to the letter of the law that it is not possible for the LAPD to issue a citation to the driver who hit me.

Read more…

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Response to Venice Boardwalk Crash Should Be Model, Not Outlier

Screen grab of the top picture of Alice Gruppioni and her husband Christian Casadei from Leggo, a newspaper in Italy.

Saturday in the late afternoona, Nathan Lewis Campbell got in his car and created carnage on the Venice Boardwalk. The 38-year-old native of Colorado drove on to the boardwalk and swerved through the area injuring dozens and killing Italian Alice Gruppioni, a 32 year old newly waling barefoot on the beach next to her husband. They were on their honeymoon.

Later, Campbell abandoned his car and sauntered into a Santa Monica Police Station to turn himself in. The psychopath’s bail is set at $1 million and he is being held on “suspicion of murder.” Unlike a recent high-profile hit and run in Gardena, Campbell is unlikely to be released on his own recognizance.

There are literally hundreds of stories covering this crash circulating the Internet, from CNN to the L.A. Times, from ABC to Yo Venice!, from CBS to Leggo in Italy.

All of the major power players are giving an appropriate response. Local Council Member Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti are promising an infrastructure improvement, the media is treating the case with the solemness it deserves, the LAPD is talking about murder and not “accidents.”

The reaction to this devastating crash should become the template for how the city and those in power react to a crash of any sort, but especially a hit and run crash. Whether it be state law, a culture of lawlessness on the streets, a lack of serious investigation  by the LAPD, a lack of urgency by the City Attorney or District Attorney, poor road design, or any of another thousand reasons, the City of Los Angeles is not a safe place to walk and ride a bicycle. At least, it’s not as safe as it could and should be.

If the city truly wants to honor the memory of Alice Gruppioni, it should make a point that the response to this weekend’s tragedy becomes the standard response, and not an outlier. Read more…

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Recounting Sunday’s Justice For Trayvon March, Taking to the Freeway, & Thoughts on Urbanism & Racial Inequities

Justice for Trayvon march walking eastbound across all lanes from the Crenshaw entrance of the 10 freeway.

On the Sunday morning of July 14th I caught word of a rally and march calling for justice for Trayvon Martin on twitter to take place at 4:00pm meeting at Crenshaw Blvd. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I came out to see and hear what people had to say, and I wanted to feel the reality on the ground as it truly exists, unfiltered by the truncated flyover coverage that accounts for so much of broadcast news.

I also came out with the dual hats of documenting and live blogging, but also lending my own presence to the frustration that our society remains unfair and unjust, far too often shaped unequally along racial lines. I’m not entirely neutral here, but neutrality doesn’t really exist, and perhaps most especially from some sources that attempt to claim otherwise.

I’ll admit upfront I’m no expert on the legal system, and I was not following every turn of the Zimmerman trial (or was it really Trayvon on trial?). Writing from the perspective of a white male currently living in Santa Monica, I am not confronted by the same kinds of prejudice or systemic structural disparities and expectations in my personal life that a Black male would experience in our society.

I can recognize that institutional racism exists, but I cannot speak from the same place, I do not carry the same burden. As an idealist, the fundamental unfairness of this dynamic does burn at me, it angers me, but such feelings must pale in comparison to how it must feel to carry the weight of presumed guilt by simply existing as one’s self. When I was a teenager I sometimes walked or biked alone at night on the suburban streets and pedestrian paths where I grew up, but I was never perceived a threat or stalked by law enforcement or civilian self styled authorities. It never crossed my mind that I might be confronted over imagined crimes simply because of how I looked and where I was going.

From the night of February 26th, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, to the protests and rallies across the country following the acquittal verdict, the street as public space has been a central part of this story. Trayvon Martin, returning to the home he was visiting, was followed, presumed suspicious, presumed guilty of something, with no evidence as such, for the very act of walking down the street with the “wrong” appearance, in the “wrong” place. He was thought to be surely up to no good because of appearance and prejudice.

In much of the popular urbanist discourse the goal of complete streets is invoked, usually to denote particular design features or characteristics. But if there are people in our society who cannot even walk without presumed guilt, than I would contend that no street can be truly “complete”. No sidewalk, no bike lane, no ideal tree canopy, no parklet, can correct for social paranoia empowered by firearms and flawed legal institutions. The street is a social construct foremost. Design features and infrastructure are important, but always secondary. Read more…

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If You Expect Justice to Be Served on LAPD Sgt. Yanez, Prepare to Be Disappointed

(Author’s note: there is some editorializing in this story. The opinions are mine. Unless Bell is quoted saying something, don’t put my words in his mouth. – DN)

Following last Monday’s story detailing the likely role an LAPD Sargent took covering up his daughter’s deadly hit and run crash, Streetsblog received a lot of email. Letters from friends of the slain victim, Jesse Dotson, were the most common. But a depressing interchange with attorney Allan Bell, retired police officer and the Senior Trial Attorney at The Law Offices of Allen J. Bell & Associates, shows that the deck is stacked against justice when it comes to prosecuting Sgt. Arturo Yanez for his role in covering up his daughter’s crime.

Just a reminder, Jesse Dotson, by all accounts a decent and optimistic family man, was killed by a dangerous driver who left him laying in the street.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, in late June Jesse Dotson was bicycling to work when he was struck by a hit and run driver. The car belonged to Vanessa Yanez, the daughter of LAPD Sgt. Arturo Yanez. Four hours after the crash, Yanez reported her car stolen and returned to a lot near her house. The crash occurred 16 miles away.

When the Gardena police charged Vanessa Yanez with a host of crimes, including vehicular manslaughter, bail was set at $100,000 but she was released on her own recognizance despite the fact that the police believe she killed someone, ran from the crime, and lied about a stolen car.

As for Sgt. Yanez, he lives with his daughter and actually owns the car that killed Dotson. He either believes his daughter’s ridiculous story and is one of the worst investigative officers ever, or he is complicit in the scheme to report the car stolen. Gardena police state they are not investigating Sgt. Yanez, but LAPD opened its own investigation.

I was relieved that LAPD was investigating, but Bell set me straight that there is little good news for fans of traffic justice.

First, Bell easily refutes my claim from last week that the LAPD review could strengthen Gardena’s police department’s case against Sgt. Yanez. Read more…

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A Tale of Two Communities, Part II: LAPD Finds it Stirred Up Hornets’ Nest by Profiling USC Students of Color

Graduating senior Jay Sneed (at podium) offers closing remarks at the forum to address racial profiling at USC while Tommie Bayliss waits to speak to senior officers in person (Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog)

*This is a sister-story to our recent piece on how the new security measures around USC resulted in the increase in profiling of lower-income youth of color around the campus. Read that story here.

WE DO NOT BELIEVE AT THIS POINT that there is any indication that this [incident] was race-based,” Capt. II Paul Snell of the LAPD Southwest Division told 1000 attendees at a forum last Tuesday night to address the mistreatment of black students by the LAPD when shutting down their party on May 4th.

People’s eyes rolled back so far in their heads, it looked like some of them might get stuck that way.

Too many in attendance had either been on the scene, had friends who had been there, or had seen the many images, videos, and detailed accounts of students describing how 79 officers (some in riot gear) had used bias, aggression, bullying, excessive force, and even racial slurs to disperse a party of minority students celebrating their last day of classes.

I reached out to squeeze the heavily tattooed arm of Tommie Bayliss, a student at the cinema school who I had watched grow increasingly agitated while awaiting his turn to address the panel of officers and USC officials.

“Are you OK?”

His head snapped up in surprise.

After a long pause, he nodded, “Yeah.”

I didn’t buy it.

Just minutes earlier, he had been demanding accountability and shouting questions to the panel out of turn. His friend and a co-organizer of the event, Jay Sneed, had quickly rushed over to settle him down while Rikiesha Pierce, another event organizer and author of a Neon Tommy article about biased policing at a party in mid-April, took to the microphone.

“They can’t hear you when you’re screaming,” she admonished Bayliss. “You gotta stand. You gotta be decent. You have to come with understanding and intellect.”

Bayliss has understanding and intellect in spades, and he recognized the importance of decorum. But, he also saw the forum was quickly coming to an end, which meant he wasn’t going to have a chance to say his peace publicly. Read more…

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A Tale of Two Communities: New Security Measures at USC Intensify Profiling of Lower-Income Youth of Color

This is what stopping teens can look like. Mikey, Jonathan and George/Jorge were frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park last spring. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Note: the photo is not from South L.A., as many of the youth I spoke with wished to remain anonymous. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“What you got on you?” the 15 year-old girl says the cops pulled up alongside her asked as she walked along Vermont one night.

Bundled up in her boyfriend’s jacket to stave off the chilly air, she didn’t realize that they were actually talking to her until she heard one grumble, “Fucking Mexican!” and repeat the question.

Now she found herself both amused and pissed — not only were they messing with her, she’s Salvadoran.

“I was like, ‘Dayum, for real??’” she laughed as she recounted the incident to me over a plate of fries at a little restaurant not too far from where she had been stopped.

She was just going to the market, she told them. She didn’t have anything on her.

“Well, you just look [like you're] bad,” she says the cops told her before pulling away.

“Geeeez-us,” I groaned, cradling my head in my hands.

I had spent the last month and a half moving up and down the streets around USC, speaking with lower-income black and brown male youth (aged 14 – 25) about the encounters they have had with officers from the LAPD and USC’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). Every single one of the approximately 50 youth I had randomly approached for an interview told me multiple stories about getting harassed, insulted, stopped, and sometimes even frisked and handcuffed by both DPS and the LAPD.

But I hadn’t expected to hear a story from her.

She’s tiny – maybe 4’10” tall on a good day – and she’s been working hard to stay out of trouble. In fact, she had recently moved up to the USC area to get away from the craziness and drama of the streets in Watts, where she had lived for the last several years. There, she was stressed from having to constantly watch her back. Her new neighborhood seemed so peaceful in contrast.

“You realize there’s a Harpys clique just up the street, right?” I laughed, pointing over my shoulder.

“Huh?”

She had never even heard of that gang. The only trouble she had had was with the cops. But it didn’t faze her, she said, waving me off dismissively. That kind of thing is normal.

Rites of Passage in the ‘Hood

“Normal.”

“Happens all the time.”

“It’s like a rite of passage.”

All across Los Angeles, these are ways that a lot of youth of color from lower-income communities describe being stopped, questioned, searched, or, on occasion, falsely accused of misdoing and arrested or even brutalized by the police. Such incidents are so prevalent, in fact, that I’ve had to postpone meeting up with people that wanted to tell me their stories about enduring harassment in order to finish this article. The list of friends, acquaintances, and random people I’ve encountered that regularly experience this kind of discrimination is actually that long.

Most strikingly, although all describe hating how disempowering, humiliating, and even traumatic it can be, and that it feels like the police prefer sweating them to keeping them safe, they tend not to think of getting stopped as anything out of the ordinary.

It sucks, they tell me, but it comes with growing up in the ‘hood.

Until recently, many of the residents – young and old — in the neighborhoods around USC might have felt no differently. They were used to being scrutinized by both the LAPD and DPS, monitored by some of the now 72 cameras USC has set up on and around campus (watched 20 hours a day by LAPD and round the clock by USC), and observed by the more than 30 security ambassadors positioned on campus and throughout adjacent neighborhoods.

“We know [LAPD and DPS] are going to slow down [their cars] when they see a group of us standing out here like this,” an older black gentleman said of himself and his friends as they chatted in front of his home under the watchful gaze of cameras posted up on Normandie Ave.

“They always do.”

His friends nodded solemnly.

Since the implementation of new security measures around USC following two shootings in the area last year, however, things have apparently become more intense than “normal” for some. In particular, the stepping up of DPS patrols on and around campus combined with the arrival of 30 officers to the Southwest Division to conduct high visibility patrols and “more frequent parole checks on local gang members” (the $750,000 worth of personnel costs which were paid for by USC) have put everybody on notice.

Neighbors (and, most recently USC students of color, apparently) really began to feel the shift in tone with the beginning of the fall semester, when the new measures went into full effect.

The reason? Despite DPS’ use of “video patrol” techniques and the LAPD’s use of cutting-edge computer-generated models to aid in predictive policing, the methodologies behind the identification of suspicious behavior or candidates for “parole checks” appear decidedly unsophisticated.

And aggressive.

Black and Latino youth report that officers from both the LAPD and DPS regularly pull up alongside them and verbally accost them with a barrage of questions. Read more…

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RIP: Buffered Bike Lane in Front of LAPD Headquarters

During the Dorner drama, the bike lane and sidewalk in front of LAPD headquarters was media parking. Image via UCLA Public Affairs/Twitter

This weekend, the Bureau of Street Services will be repaving parts of 1st Street in Downtown Los Angeles. After the repaving, the street will be repainted. Part of the repainting will include removing the buffer from the 1st Street Buffered Bike Lane in front of LAPD headquarters between Spring and Main Streets.

The good news is that the buffer will remain for the rest of 1st Street and the bike lane itself will be undisturbed. The bad news is that the LAPD officially asked that the buffer be removed and LADOT agreed. The parking lot for LAPD headquarters requires nearly 100 yards of extra walking as compared to the headquarters. Downtown cyclists complained about LAPD cruisers parking in the lane since it was painted, and the result of those complaints seems to be removing the buffer so the police can resume curb parking in front of the headquarters.

Of course, the LAPD and LADOT are not saying that this is about curb parking. They continue to assert this issue is about emergency access to police headquarters. But, given that the LAPD was completely unable or unwilling to enforce “no parking in the buffered bike lane,” it seems wildly unlikely that they’ll enforce “no parking in the stopping but no parking lane.”

By removing the buffering in front of LAPD headquarters, the LAPD is sending a message that it was more interested in non-emergency parking (a police car can park in any lane in an emergency, so this was never about access) than road safety. Cyclists proposed several alternate solutions that were never considered very seriously including making the lane L.A.’s first cycle track or protected bike lane or using plastic bollards to keep the lane clear of all but emergency vehicles and cyclists.

Downtown cyclist Roger Rudick makes the case for keeping the lane in a previous story on Streetsblog. Read more…