Assemblyman Mike Gatto took bold new action today in his ongoing efforts to curb the epidemic of hit-and-runs in California, introducing legislation to create a “Yellow Alert” system to help catch hit-and-run offenders.
Gatto’s bill, AB 47, would allow law-enforcement agencies to use the existing Emergency Alert System (of which “Amber” Alerts are a part) to notify the public of specific descriptions of vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision. Use of the system would be limited to hit-and-runs that result in death or serious bodily injury. Alerts would issue only when there is a sufficient description of the offending vehicle.
“These are crimes which, by their nature, occur at a high rate of speed and with clear means for fleeing the scene.” said Gatto. “The public is almost always needed to catch those who leave fellow citizens dying on the side of the road, and AB 47 will allow us to do so promptly, before the perpetrator can get away and cover up the evidence.”
Nationwide, less than half of all hit-and-run offenders are apprehended. In Los Angeles, the arrest rate for fatal hit-and-runs is only 20%. Denver, Colorado created a similar alert system in 2012, which it called the “Medina Alert,” named for Jose Medina, the victim of a deadly hit-and-run in 2011. Of the seventeen cases that have prompted Medina Alerts in Denver, thirteen have been solved, an incredible 76% success rate. On March 25, Colorado’s Governor signed legislation expanding the Medina Alert statewide.
In California, Assemblyman Gatto has spent the past two years working on legislative efforts to address the high numbers of hit-and-runs across the state. Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations to prosecute hit-and-run drivers. This year, he is the author of AB 1532, which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person. He has also supported local movements to raise awareness of the hit-and-run epidemic, including Finish the Ride, a charity ride created by Damian Kevitt, the survivor of a brutal hit-and-run in Gatto’s district last year. Gatto hopes the alerts will help bring perpetrators to justice, but also to encourage drivers in accidents to stop and render aid.
Gatto’s AB 47 had been placed on inactive since Governor Jerry Brown had signed a nearly identical companion piece of legislation last year. Thus, he was able to amend it to include this new legislation.
“Accidents happen, but if you don’t stop, it becomes a crime,” said Gatto. “This is a sensible bill that will use extant public-information systems to make our streets safer.”