L.A. Police Commission Approves Questionable LAPD Hit-and-Run Report

Despite questionable data, the Los Angeles Police Commission approved a controversial LAPD report about the city's hit-and-run crisis on Tuesday.

The study now heads to the L.A. City Council's public safety committee, where Councilman Joe Buscaino will decide if LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is doing everything he can to curtail hit-and-runs after intense media scrutiny that was kicked off by the L.A. Weekly cover story "L.A.'s Bloody Hit-and-Run Epidemic."

Hit-and-runs "need to be prioritized," says Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition education director Colin Bogart. "This needs to be really addressed."

In December 2012, former Weekly staff writer Simone Wilson found that there "is no LAPD task force or organized city effort to address the [hit-and-runs], yet the numbers are mind-boggling. About 20,000 hit-and-run crashes, from fender-benders to multiple fatalities, are recorded by the Los Angeles Police Department each year."

Wilson also reported that in "the United States, 11 percent of vehicle collisions are hit-and-runs. But in Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly has learned, an incredible 48 percent of crashes were hit-and-runs in 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. According to data collected by the state, some 4,000 hit-and-run crashes a year inside L.A. city limits, including cases handled by LAPD, California Highway Patrol and the L.A. County Sheriff, resulted in injury and/or death. Of those, according to a federal study, about 100 pedestrians died; the number of motorists and bicyclists who die would push that toll even higher."

Yet LAPD recently came up with a statistical formula that found Los Angeles is "comparable" to other major cities in the United States, indicating that L.A.'s hit-and-problem isn't that bad after all. L.A. police commissioners asked few questions about the LAPD's data.

In fact, police commissioner Rafael Bernardino Jr., who was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told LAPD command staff, "Your report does a good job of dispelling the myth that Los Angeles is the hit-and-run capital of the world."

But bicycling advocates, who were generally supportive of the report's recommendations to combat L.A.'s hit-and-run crisis -- LAPD acknowledged on Tuesday that 20,000 incidents per year was not acceptable -- were skeptical of the data rolled out by Beck.

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition planning and policy director Eric Bruins told the police commission that a measure called "vehicle miles traveled" (VMT), which was used by LAPD to beef up its contention that L.A. has comparable hit-and-run statistics to other major cities, was a murky measurement. Far more important, said Bruins, was how many hit-and-runs occurred per capita.

VMT is "sort of tangential," L.A. County Bicycle Coalition's Bogart tells the Weekly. "It confuses the issue somewhat."

Bicycling advocate Jeff Jacobberger also noted that LAPD added freeway hit-and-run collisions -- a statistic it hadn't used before -- to support its claim that L.A. isn't facing a hit-and-run epidemic. Yet, says Jacobberger, there are few, if any, pedestrians and bicyclists using L.A.'s freeways.

Pedestrians and bicyclists by far suffer the most bodily harm during hit-and-run collisions, the LAPD statistics show. Yet Bogart tells the Weekly that never asked the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition for input over the past five months when preparing the report, which includes recommendations for how to combat hit-and-runs.

L.A. Police Commission president Andrea Sheridan Ordin told Beck and his command staff that any way they sliced it, 20,000 hit-and-run incidents per year was unacceptable.

"For me," Ordin says, "at the the end of the day, it's not how close we are to the other cities or not how close we are ... it's that the 20,000 is too many."

L.A. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who requested the report, tells the Weekly in a statement, "Though LAPD's report suggests the rate of hit-and-run collisions in Los Angeles may be comparable to other major cities when factoring in the higher rate of vehicle miles traveled, this is all the more reason to take action."

He adds, "There is no excuse for leaving the scene of an accident, period. In a city where the personal automobile is still the dominant means of transportation, we owe it to our residents to ensure they can move around town as safely as possible -- whether traveling as a motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian. LAPD has provided several recommendations to address this problem, and I look forward to discussing them with the department, and my colleagues on the public safety committee."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Patrick Range McDonald on Twitter at @PRMcDonald.


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