After prolonged controversy over Los Angeles' hit-and-run crisis, and the Los Angeles Police Department's response to it, the L.A. City Council's Public Safety Committee today told the LAPD to get more serious about hit-and-runs, recommending a major policy shift in which the LAPD would take reports for all hit-and-run incidences.
The LAPD has not taken reports for hit-and-runs if there's no injury or no city property has been damaged. That policy has resulted in incomplete data and an inability to understand the true extent of L.A.'s hit-and-run epidemic. Some U.S. cities take reports on every crash.
"To me," 15th District L.A. Councilman Joe Buscaino said at the committee meeting, "whether an injury occurred or not, it's a hit-and-run problem."
Buscaino requested a report in January from the LAPD to understand what the department was doing to better handle L.A.'s hit-and-run crisis, which was first revealed by L.A. Weekly in December 2012.
In June, LAPD chief Charlie Beck released a controversial hit-and-run report that critics thought was more about public relations damage control on the heels of the Weekly expose than addressing the concerns of Buscaino and bicycling advocates. Bicyclists are often the victims of hit-and-runs, which have sometimes resulted in death.
At today's committee meeting, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Policy Director Eric Bruins said a hit-and-run is "a violent crime, and we need to treat it that way." He added that bicyclists who have been involved in a hit-and-run "don't feel like they were treated seriously" by the LAPD.
Bicycling advocate Don Ward, who was a member of the LAPD's Bike Task Force, testified that "the LAPD actually discourages [hit-and-run victims] from filing a report."
Don Rosenberg, whose son was killed in a hit-and-run in San Francisco, was called as an expert witness by 12th District L.A. Councilman Mitch Englander, chair of the public safety committee. Rosenberg blasted the LAPD's report and said, "Quite frankly, the department doesn't give a damn about this issue."
Deputy Chief Mike Downing said the controversial report was done in a way to "give better context" about L.A.'s hit-and-run crisis. He also said the current hit-and-run numbers were "unacceptable" -- L.A. suffers a staggering 20,000 hit-and-runs annually -- and promised an LAPD crackdown.
Additionally, Downing said that laws need to be improved with stronger penalties for hit-and-run drivers.
The public safety committee adopted the LAPD's recommendations for handling hit-and-runs -- such as creating tougher laws to combat hit-and-runs and removing unregistered cars from L.A.'s streets -- and suggested a few of their own.
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They included tracking all hit-and-runs through COMPSTAT -- the police department's computerized crime tracking system -- and taking reports for all hit-and-runs.
Echoing Eric Bruins, and hinting that the LAPD needs a change of mindset, Councilman Englander said, "We have to look at [hit-and-runs] as a crime."
See also "Chief Beck's Hit-and-Run Crisis."