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Momentum Builds for Tougher Hit and Run Laws

Two pieces of news show that the moment created by L.A. Weekly's ground-breaking article detailing Los Angeles' hit and run epidemic will not be wasted. This morning, the Los Angeles City Council Public Safety Committee met to detail what is expected from an LAPD report on hit and runs and the city's impact. Later, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-43) that extends the amount of time that one can be prosecuted for a hit and run crash.

Mike Gatto

Currently, motorists who flee the scene of a crash can simply "run down the clock" to avoid any liability or prosecution. Gatto's bill extends the statute of limitations for hit and run offenses to three years from the date of the offense, or one year after the suspect is identified by law enforcement, whichever is later.  Currently, if a hit and run driver is not identified within three years, he or she cannot be prosecuted. This change "starts the clock" when the driver is identified, not when a crash occurs.

The legislation, just introduced, is not numbered as of the writing of this article.

“Many hit-and-run victims suffer very serious injuries, often because they are unable to dial 9-1-1, and, of course, because the person fleeing the scene does not.  Allowing hit-and-run criminals to avoid prosecution just adds insult to these injuries,” said Gatto.

Eric Bruins, Planning & Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, noted that bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to hit-and-run collisions that result in death or serious bodily injury.  “It's hard for us to encourage people to bike and walk when our streets are treated like the Wild West,” said Bruins.  “The LA County Bicycle Coalition commends Assemblyman Gatto for bringing attention to this issue and giving hit-and-run victims hope that their perpetrators might be brought to justice once identified.”

Originally, the Public Safety Committee expected to hear a report from the LAPD on how the department is handling the ongoing hit and run crisis, but a representative of the department stated that such a report need be heard first by the police commission.  

In the absence of a report, Council Member Mitch Englander, a reserve officer who chairs the committee, outlined the data he expected in the report: year to date crash data, historical data going back five years, geographical information, and the number of arrests made. Council Member Dennis Zine, also a reserve officer, asked that the data be separated into "misdemeanor" and "felony" categories. Hit and runs are only considered felonies if there is substantial physical injury or property damage.

 The police commission will hear the report on February 19th.

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