LAPD cadets stole police cars and may have impersonated officers, chief says – Los Angeles Times
Three teenagers who were enrolled in the Los Angeles Police Department’s cadet program stole three police cruisers along with stun guns, radios and a bulletproof vest during a string of thefts then ended in a pair of car chases late Wednesday night, according to Police Chief Charlie Beck.
The cadets, whose identities were withheld because of their age, were arrested Wednesday night after two of the pursuits ended in crashes in South L.A., Beck said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
One of the vehicles that crashed was stolen from a parking garage at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Division, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation. The other was allegedly taken from the LAPD’s 77th Street station in South Los Angeles, the sources said. A third vehicle went missing, but was later recovered, according to Beck.
The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the incident.
Beck, who said the cadets “may have impersonated police officers” while driving the stolen vehicles, said two stun guns, two police radios and a bulletproof vest were also stolen. One of the juvenile cadets was wearing an LAPD bulletproof vest when they were arrested on Wednesday night, Beck said.
LAPD brass has long pointed to the cadet program as a success story. Thousands of young people between 13 and 20 have participated over the years. The goal is to foster relationships between the city’s youth and police while helping participants develop leadership and life skills.
Beck has ordered a “top to bottom” review of the program, and said he hopes the actions of these cadets would not tarnish the entire initiative.
“We’re very proud of our cadet program and we don’t want the actions of these three individuals to reflect negatively on the other 2,300” cadets, Beck said.
Two males and one female were apprehended, according to a police spokeswoman.
Officer Aareon Jefferson, a department spokesman, said it was easy for pursuing officers to identify the SUVs as stolen because the drivers weren’t in uniform.
“We don’t recognize them,” Jefferson said.
Two of the cadets were assigned to the 77th Street station, according to two law enforcement sources.
Cadets enroll in an 18-week academy training program, taking various classes and getting an introduction to police work. After completing their training, cadets can be assigned to one of the city’s police stations, where they may volunteer for a wide array of tasks such as working Dodgers games or the L.A. Marathon and passing out fliers alerting residents about crimes in their neighborhood.
The program isn’t limited to kids who want to become police officers. Teenagers who join must have at least a 2.0 grade point average and submit a written recommendation, according to the program’s website. They cannot have a serious criminal record and must “maintain good moral character.”
Officers spotted the stolen cruisers about 9:30 p.m. in the 400 block of East 61st Street, the LAPD said Wednesday night.
What followed apparently were two separate pursuits. In one chase, a stolen car crashed at 77th and San Pedro streets and the driver was taken into custody.
As the second stolen cruiser drove on, a pursuing LAPD vehicle crashed at Gage Avenue and Broadway, according to Officer Tony Im.
The second stolen vehicle crashed about four miles away, at Adams Boulevard and Central Avenue. The driver of that vehicle also was taken into custody.
Im told The Times on Wednesday night that it was unclear whether any occupants of the stolen or pursuing vehicles were injured.
The base cost of a new Ford Utility Police Interceptor is about $37,000.
Some officers were concerned that news of the thefts would taint what is otherwise a productive program.
“These knuckleheads crippled a program that a lot of people depend on,” said one officer, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity. “It’s sad.”
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers Matt Hamilton and Joseph Serna contributed to this report.
2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
1:25 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the stolen vehicles and the investigation of the possible role of cadets
11:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details about the theft of LAPD police cruisers and the department’s cadet program.
10:50 a.m.: This article has been updated to say that police are investigating the possible role of police cadets.
10:20 a.m.: This article has been updated to say the suspects were juveniles.
9:45 a.m.: This article was updated with the base cost of a police SUV.
8:45 a.m.: This article was updated to say that three individuals were taken into custody.
This article was originally published at 8:35 a.m.