LA City Council Gets Tough on Hit-and-Run Crimes: New Rewards and Alerts

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (center, at podium) touts the city's efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning's press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (at podium) touts the city’s efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning’s press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve two new city programs that aim to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. According to Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander, hit-and-run crashes killed 27 people in Los Angeles in 2014, and 80 percent of recent hit-and-run crimes remain unsolved.

The city’s hit-and-run efforts were previewed at a press event this morning hosted by Councilmembers Englander and Joe Buscaino, with representatives of the police (LAPD) and transportation (LADOT) departments, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt.

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Jose Vazquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run in 2013. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The two new programs approved today include:

1 – New Public Alert System “Yellow Alerts” for Hit-and-Run Crimes

Established via council motion 14-0444, the LAPD will now publicize hit-and-run crimes via a new alert system. The alerts will be distributed via LAPD social media, including Nixle, Twitter, and Facebook, to enlist the public’s help in apprehending suspects who flee the scene of hit-and-run crimes.

Alerts will be dependent on the severity of the crime, and will be targeted to areas in and near the LAPD division where the crime took place. They will, of course, be limited by the information available, such as the license plate, vehicle, and description of perpetrator.

A similar alert system in Denver, Colorado, has improved conviction rates for hit-and-run crimes there. From the text of the motion [PDF]:

Medina [Hit-and-Run] Alerts have been in place in the City of Denver for two years and in the City of Aurora for one, and are issued in severe or fatal hit-and-run collisions when a description of the vehicle involved is available. Medina Alerts enable authorities to quickly broadcast information about a hit-and-run collision to the public on highway signs and through the media. In Denver, the city has also partnered with cab drivers and others who spend their working hours on the road, and alerts them when a collision occurs. Denver has issued 17 Medina Alerts since enacting their program; 13 of these cases have been solved.

2 – Standing Rewards for Information Leading to Hit-and-Run Convictions

Established via council motion 13-0025-S1, the city will now offer rewards to individuals who come forward with information that leads to the conviction of hit-and-run crimes. Councilmember Buscaino describes this as an attempt to “change the culture of driving away” from a crash. 

The rewards are tiered based on the severity of the damage caused (from Police Commission Report [PDF]):

  • hit-and-run causing fatality – $50,000 reward
  • hit-and-run causing permanent, serious injury – $25,000 reward
  • hit-and-run causing injury – $5,000 reward
  • hit-and-run causing property damage – $1000 reward

These rewards are now standard for all hit-and-run crimes. In the past, families often had to pressure the city to set reward amounts in these cases.

Future Phases Expected

Councilmember Englander mentioned a planned “phase 2” in which the LAPD will work with additional vehicle dispatchers, both public (such as the Bureau of Sanitation) and private (such as taxis and ride-hailing companies) to further disseminate hit-and-run alerts.

Englander also stated that the city is continuing to work with State Assemblymember Mike Gatto to create a statewide hit-and-run alert system. Gatto attempted to create one last year but, though his bill passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support, it was vetoed by Governor Brown. Gatto has introduced a similar bill, A.B. 8, in the current legislative session.

Damian Kevitt, the hit-and-run crime survivor who founded Finish the Ride, welcomed the city’s latest efforts to shed its notoriety as “the hit-and-run capital of the United States.” Kevitt encouraged drivers to “have some dignity” and always remain at the scene of a collision. Finish the Ride will be hosting its Ride, Run, Walk n’ Roll event on April 19. The annual race raises funds for Finish the Ride’s advocacy efforts toward preventing hit-and-runs and making streets safe for all.

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