In the wake of multiple hit-and-run deaths in the past month, Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez today introduced legislation that would create a hit-and-run reward fund of up to $1,000 per tip. Cash rewards would go to civilians with information leading to the arrest, prosecution or conviction of a suspected hit-and-run driver who kills or seriously injures a person.
"Hit and runs occur with far too great a frequency," Councilmember Rodriguez said in a statement. "Today we are sending a message that we're willing to put our money where our mouth is to catch and prosecute cowardly individuals who leave people for dead as they flee the scene."
Rodriguez has already tested the reward fund approach, according to his office. Following the December hit-and-run death of La Mega DJ Jinx Paul, the councilmember announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to the driver's arrest.
Thomas Bradley, Jr., 52, was fatally struck while crossing South Conduit Avenue at Rockaway Boulevard in Queens around 2:30 a.m. on New Year's day. No arrests have been made. Several days prior, 39-year-old Evedette Sanchez was killed by a hit-and-run driver while she was in a crosswalk at Louisiana and Flatlands avenues in East New York.
These early 2017 fatalities set an ominous tone, following Fiscal Year 2016 NYPD statistics that show relatively low arrest rates for fatal hit-and-run crashes. Of 38 fatal hit-and-run crashes between July 2015 and June 2016—the most up-to-date NYPD statistics available—13, or 34 percent, have resulted in an arrest. In 22 hit-and-run crashes where the victim was "seriously injured" by the NYPD's estimation, 14 arrests have been made.
Taking all fatal and injurious crashes during that time period into account—including those that resulted in what the NYPD classified as non-serious "personal injuries"—the NYPD made 450 arrests in 5,066 crashes. That's an arrest rate of about 8 percent.
For comparison, the arrest rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter in 2015 was 86 percent—308 arrests out of 335 incidents.
Also on Wednesday, Councilmember Rodriguez said that he would "advocate" for more officers in the NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad [CIS]—a priority that was not included in the NYPD's 2016 budget. Two other bills are still in the draft phase: one that would create a city-wide hit-and-run alert system to inform the public of the make and model of cars involved in hit-and-run crashes, and a second that would increase resources for investigations into hit-and-run crashes that result in property damage.
Mayor de Blasio passed legislation in December 2015 doubling hit-and-run fines. But some say stronger measures most be taken, at the state level. Currently, the maximum penalty for a DWI exceeds that for a hit-and-run—a discrepancy that advocates say motives drivers to flee. Under current law, it is a C felony to kill someone while driving under the influence, but only a D felony to leave the scene of a fatal crash.
In response to advocates' concern about hit-and-run arrest rates in FY 2016, mayoral spokesman Austin Finan has stressed that CIS focuses its resources on the most serious crashes—where the arrest rates are higher—allocating crashes deemed less serious to precinct detectives.
"Hit and runs are serious, unacceptable crimes which is why the police department investigates every reported case and works hard to make arrests, including dispatching CIS investigators for all instances where an individual is seriously injured or killed," he stated Wednesday.
Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who primarily represents cyclists and pedestrians injured and killed by reckless drivers, has countered that the definition of "serious" is too narrow. Citing his experience litigating against the NYPD on behalf of hit-and-run victims, he told us last fall that the non-serious category "may include everything from scrapes and bruises and road rash, all the way up to any serious injury that doesn't involve the person needing life support. You can lose a limb and not need life support."
Vaccaro has suggested that the NYPD use the penal code definition of "serious personal injury" to determine which hit-and-run cases get CIS investigations. According to the code, "protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ" falls into the serious injury category.
Councilmember Rodriguez's reward fund legislation specifically uses the penal code definition of "serious injury."
The Mayor's Office is reviewing the legislation, which states that the reward would be paid out by that office, based on a recommendation from the NYPD.