If You Run… It’s a Crime
When it comes to hit-and-run offenses, the Crescenta Valley has been more fortunate than many communities. The last deadly hit-and-run to occur in this community was more than four-years ago, on Jan. 1, 2010. Unfortunately, our friends and family in neighboring communities are facing a serious epidemic that seems to be inching closer and closer to home.
There are more than 20,000 hit-and-run incidents a year in Los Angeles County. Of those, more than 4,000 lead to serious injury or death. That’s more than 10 hit-and-runs per day that leave a helpless victim lying in the street. Allowing the perpetrators to escape prosecution just adds insult to these injuries. Hit-and-run victims and their families deserve to know that cowards who drive recklessly, and purposefully avoid responsibility, will be caught, and will no longer be allowed to drive the streets.
To address this epidemic, I’ve worked to raise awareness of hit-and-runs across California and provide additional tools for police investigating hit-and-runs, such as last year’s AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations for hit-and-run offenses that lead to serious-bodily injury or death. This year, I’m continuing my efforts by introducing AB 1532 and AB 47, which would engage the public in law enforcement’s search for hit-and-run offenders and increase penalties once a perpetrator is caught.
AB 47, which is also known as the “Yellow Alert bill,” 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.
The legislation is modeled after a similar alert system created in Denver, Colorado in 2012. The system has resulted in an incredible 76% arrest rate when cases are posted to the alert system. By comparison, less than half of all hit-and-run offenders are apprehended nationally and in Los Angeles, the arrest rate for fatal hit-and-runs is only 20%. On March 25, Colorado’s governor signed legislation expanding the alert system statewide.
AB 1532 takes aim at hit-and-run offenders after they are arrested, requiring a mandatory six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person. The legislation addresses a major loophole in current law which sets the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident based on how bad the victim’s injuries end up being, which is silly because there is no way to know the severity of the victim’s injuries at the moment of impact without stopping.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt; after all, accidents happen, but leaving an injured person in the streets is simply unacceptable. Together, these bills will empower the public to help us catch hit-and-run drivers before they can cover up the evidence of their crimes and ensure the perpetrators of these cowardly acts think twice before leaving fellow citizens dying on the side of the road. Motorists must begin to recognize that fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime. Period.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly and joint author of the 2014 Water Bond. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGatto or visit www.asm.ca.gov/gatto.