In a push to solve and prevent more hit-and-run traffic collisions, Los Angeles city officials said Tuesday that they will launch an alert system to share information about drivers who flee the scenes of crashes.
Publicizing the make, model, color and license plate number of a car linked to a hit-and-run could encourage a neighbor, friend or even a cabdriver in the area to call 911, traffic officials with the Los Angeles Police Department said Tuesday.
Alerts will be sent out on Facebook, Twitter and Nixle, a website where government agencies share information with constituents. Bus drivers and the city's 2,300 licensed taxi drivers will also receive the alerts through their dispatch systems. The program could expand to other city services, including trash trucks and street repair vehicles, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.
City Hall will also offer rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a hit-and-run driver: $50,000 for crashes in which someone is killed; up to $25,000 if the victim is severely injured; $5,000 if someone is hurt; and $1,000 if only property is damaged.
"These are not accidents — these are crimes," Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who co-authored the motion for the rewards, said at a news conference outside City Hall. Making more information on hit-and-run crimes available to the public will make "all eyes and ears our partners," he said.
The system, which is expected to begin this spring, won't cost the city anything because the technology already exists, officials said. The reward money will come from the general fund, which pays for basic city services.
About 20,000 hit-and-run collisions happen in Los Angeles annually. The majority cause only property damage. But last year, 27 people died in hit-and-run crashes and 144 others were severely injured, City Hall officials said.
Fleeing the scene of an accident where someone is killed or severely injured is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Drivers convicted of misdemeanor hit-and-run — typically, cases in which no one is seriously injured — can face $1,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.
"We need to change the culture of driving away when you strike a human being with your car," Councilman Joe Buscaino said.
From 2008 to 2012, the LAPD closed one in five hit-and-run cases, according to a report for the Board of Police Commissioners. Fewer than half of those cases were closed through an arrest.
And a larger share of hit-and-run collisions are now harming non-drivers. A Times investigation found that hit-and-run collisions involving bicyclists soared 42% from 2002 to 2012 in Los Angeles County, while the rate of hit-and-runs overall dropped by almost one-third.
In December, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill that would allow the California Highway Patrol to display details about hit-and-run drivers on electronic freeway signs near the scene of a crash.
The same bill was vetoed in September by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said he feared that adding more information to the Amber Alert system could overload it.
A spokesman for Gatto said it isn't clear when the bill will go to a vote or whether Brown will veto it.
The bill is modeled after a similar system in Denver, where police issued alerts in 17 cases over two years and made arrests in 13 of them, Denver officials said last year.