Los Angeles News
Safety Committee Addresses Hit-And-Runs
By Melissa Simon
Jul 31, 2013 - 4:02:55 PM

LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee took up a motion on July 26 that addresses the city’s 20,000 annual hit-and-run cases.

The motion reads: “The responsibility of following up on hit-and-run incidents lies with LAPD's Traffic Divisions, who are tasked with investigation of hit-and-run crimes but are stretched thin, with an estimated 12 traffic officers per four divisions investigating 400 hit-and-run incidents per year.”

In January, Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, of the 15th District, requested a report from the LAPD to find out how they were going to handle the hit-and-run crisis in L.A.

Hit-and-run memorial
At the committee meeting, Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the LAPD, explained the numbers found in the report and put the number of 20,000 accidents into context.

“Of the accidents that are reported, 46 percent are hit-and-runs, but we also show (in the report) that over half of the accidents that occur in the city are not reported. For example, property damage only or freeway accidents,” Downing said.

Of the 46 percent reported, Downing said 83 percent are property damage only, 1 percent involves a fatal or severe injury, 3 percent are pedestrian related and 2 percent are bicycle related. He went on to say that the upward trend shows that more accidents are becoming pedestrian or bicycle related. He also said not all accidents are actually reported.

“Whether an injury occurred or not, a hit-and-run victim is a hit-and-run victim,” Buscaino said at the meeting. “We clearly have a problem.”

Eric Bruins, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Policy director, said that a hit-and-run “is a violent crime, and we need to treat it that way,” adding that bicyclists that have been involved in hit-and-runs “don’t feel like they were treated seriously.”

Don Rosenberg, who lost his son in a hit-and-run, was present during the public comment at the meeting.

“Quite frankly, the department doesn’t give a damn about this issue,” said Rosenberg, who was called as a witness by public safety committee chair Councilman Mitchell Englander.

The number of 20,000 is not acceptable, according to Downing, who said it is the job of the department to protect the public and to get that number reduced.  Downing mentioned several strategies that could be implemented to bring down those numbers, including harsher punishments, noting that there is currently no type of deterrent for somebody to not run in the case of a traffic accident.

“A hit-and-run takes two things: a traffic collision and the choice by a driver to flee,” Downing said. “We are writing legislation to put some teeth in the punishment for hit-and-runs. You can get in a traffic accident today, flee and not get charged criminally. It doesn’t cause anyone to stay.”

Downing also said that enforcement is not just the responsibility of the police department, but the community and all its members as well.

“There has to be an accountability factor there as well,” he said. “The communities, community police advisory boards, neighborhood councils, chamber of commerce, the whole community and the whole government needs to get involved with this problem of hit-and-runs.”

The public safety committee approved the LAPD’s recommendations in handling hit-and-run cases, including harsher laws. In addition, the committee recommended the LAPD track all incidents through COMPSTAT, the police department’s computerized crime tracking system and take reports for all hit-and-run accidents.

The committee requested that the Board of Police Commissioners and the LAPD use the word "crime" for hit-and-run incidents.

“We have to look at (hit-and-runs) as a crime,” Englander said.

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