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Hit-&-Run Amber Alerts Proposed For California

Hit-&-Run Amber Alerts Proposed For California

File photo by aaron_anderer/Flickr

If those alarming Amber Alert freeway messages grab your attention, be prepared for more of the same. Maybe.

L.A.-based California Assemblyman Mike Gatto today officially proposed a law that would create Amber Alert-like roadside messages when police are searching for suspects in serious and recent hit-and-run collisions. He calls the bulletins "yellow alerts."

See also: L.A.'s Bloody Hit-and-Run Epidemic

The legislator had been mulling the bill for more than 2 years, his office tells us, following L.A. Weekly's coverage of the city's hit-and-run crisis:

The proposal's language will fill a place-marked, unrelated bill that targeted prank 911 calls to celebrity homes (a.k.a. swatting). That version of AB 47 was paused after another assemblyman got similar legislation passed.

In Sacramento they call this process "gut and amend:" Previous and valid legislation is used to carry a wholly different proposal.

The deadline to introduce new legislation has passed, so Gatto had to dust off this shelved but still viable bill to carry his hit-and-run proposal.

See also: Hit-&-Run Amber Alerts Could Be Coming to L.A.

According to a statement from his office, the 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. 

His office says Gatto was planning on introducing the legislation next year but was inspired to act sooner.

"This was an idea my staff had been toying with for a couple years now," Gatto tells us. "We figured now was the right time to do it."

The L.A. City Council last month approved a motion by L.A city Councilman Mitch Englander to support state legislation that would create an Amber Alert-like system based on Colorado's successful Medina Alert System, established in 2012.

Gatto says that while only 1 out of 5 deadly hit-and-runs in L.A. ends with a suspect in custody, Denver's fatal hit-and-run arrest rate is 76 percent following the roll-out of Colorado's Medina bulletins.

Will you tire of seeing messages on your freeway commute? Gatto says he was cognizant of "alert fatigue" and was careful to make this bill "really narrow" so that the alerts would be focused.

Hit-&-Run Amber Alerts Proposed For California

Andre Morand/Flickr

For example, he told us, a Silver Lake hit-and-run would inspire only messages on stretches of nearby freeways such as the 5 and 101. People in San Diego or San Francisco wouldn't see these alerts.

And the Amber Alert component that sends alarming bulletins to your smartphone would not be utilized, he said. AB 47 is only about those state-run electronic billboards you see on your freeway commute.

"This is very narrow," he said. "It would only utilize those arteries people would use to make their getaways."

Gatto has been Sacramento's lead legislator on hit-and-run bills, including a law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, that doubled the statute of limitations for hit-and-run cases to 6 years instead of the previous 3.

Another Gatto bill that would mean the 6-month loss of your license if you flee even a minor injury accident is working its way through the state Senate now.

His office acknowledges being inspired by L.A. Weekly's coverage of what we called Los Angeles' "hit-and-run epidemic."

AB 47 and its proposed yellow alerts will be heard in by Senate Public Safety Committee June 24.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.