Harrisburg – October 15, 2020 – At the request of Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D- Philadelphia/Delaware), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a virtual public hearing to discuss expanding Pennsylvania’s Amber Alert system to include hit-and-run incidents. The hearing request comes after another deadly hit-and-run accident.
“I do not want to keep turning on the news or opening the paper to see yet another life lost to a hit-and-run accident,” Williams said. “We need accountability and action to stop those who think they can kill someone and just drive away.”
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, added, “Hit-and-run incidents have been pervasive in communities across the state. Discussing ways to deter such reprehensible conduct and hold people accountable is an excellent start in saving lives and making our streets safer.”
Senator Williams introduced Senate Bills 54 and 55 after 8-year-old Jayanna Powell was killed in a local hit-and-run incident. The culprit was caught after a body shop owner recognized the car after seeing news reports. Williams said the expansion of the Amber Alert system would be known as “Jay Alerts,” in honor of 8-year-old girl.
Ayeshia Poole, Jayanna’s mother, testified at the hearing to advocate for the creation of “Jay Alerts” through Williams’ legislation.
“We are not trying to overrun or overcrowd the Amber Alert system already in place,” Jasmine Hoffman, Jayanna’s aunt, said. “We need these separate alert platforms to save lives of people in hit-and-runs.”
It has been reported that there were almost 29,000 hit-and-runs in Philadelphia in 2017 and 2018. Philadelphia police estimate that they receive 40 calls a day concerning vehicular hit-and-run incidents. Of those 29,0000 hit-and-run incidents, 24 were fatal.
The Pennsylvania State Police said that in 2019 they recorded over 10,000 hit-and-run incidents across the state.
Amber Alerts notify people across Pennsylvania when a child has been abducted. The program was developed by the Pennsylvania State Police and is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted while playing near her home in Texas, and subsequently murdered in 1996.
An Amber Alert uses the Emergency Alert System (EAS), with the code CAE – Child Abduction Emergency, to warn citizens by radio, television, and cell phone when a child abduction occurs. The emergency alert contains information about the victim, the suspect and the suspect’s vehicle information if known.
In Senator Williams’ proposed legislation, Senate Bill 54 would require investigating law enforcement authority to alert all vehicle repair facilities in Pennsylvania, via system developed by PennDOT, of vehicles involved in hit-and-run accidents. Senate Bill 55 would expand the current Amber Alert system to include Hit-and-Run Advisory Alerts. Similar to missing children, alerts displaying the information of vehicles suspected in hit-and-run accidents involving serious bodily injury or death will be broadcast to motorists on electronic signs and billboards, as well as via text message through the Pennsylvania State Police’s Wireless Emergency Alert system.
The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) said in testimony delivered by Captain Leo Hannon that, “PSP believes these bills are well intentioned but would arguably only serve to create a duplicative system that legislatively inserts the Pennsylvania State Police into an existing process used to disseminate information to law enforcement and the public. The provisions of the bill may, and likely would, have the unintended consequences of neutering the effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s Amber Alert and MEPA procedures.”
Williams responded to the critique of PSP by stating that the criticisms of expanding the alerts systems of Pennsylvania should be based on data, and not anecdotal evidence that was provided by the PSP.
Boscola also stated that she understands the concerns of PSP, but that, “These expanded alerts could be a deterrent to those 10,000 people in Pennsylvania last year who thought they could get away with driving away from the scene of their crime.”
The following testified at today’s hearing:
- Captain Leo Hannon, Director, Special Investigations Division, Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation
- Lieutenant Gerard McShea, Commander of the Investigative Services Section, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police
- Corporal Shawn Kofluk, Supervisor, Criminal Investigation Assessment, Missing Persons Unit, Pennsylvania State Police
- Anita Wasko, Director, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, PennDOT
- Ayeshia Poole, Advocate, Philadelphia, PA
- Jasmine Hoffman, Advocate, Philadelphia, PA
- Cravante Reynolds, Advocate, Philadelphia, PA
- Joe Conti, President, Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters
- Scott Bohn, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association
Senator Jay Costa (D – Allegheny), Democratic Leader of the Senate, Sharif Street (D – Philadelphia), and Lindsey Williams (D – Allegheny) also participated in today’s hearing.
Senator Lindsey Williams also stated that after hearing the testimony from the families effected by deadly hit and runs, and fully reading Senator Anthony Williams’ bill, she has signed on as a cosponsor for “Jay Alerts” in Pennsylvania.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee has already held numerous hearings regarding COVID-19 related issues in Pennsylvania in the past six months, which can all be found on Senator Boscola’s website.
A full recording of this hearing, and links to all previous hearings, is available at senatorboscola.com/policy.