Four additional juveniles in the Los Angeles Police Department’s cadet program have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the theft of three squad cars, two of which were involved in police chases last week, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday.
The four new arrests bring to seven the number of cadets taken into custody over the thefts. Six of the arrested cadets were assigned to the 77th Street Division program and one was assigned to Pacific Division, Beck said.
Because they are juveniles the LAPD has not released their names.
Beck, speaking at a Police Commission meeting, said the cadets on a number of occasions impersonated police officers and initiated traffic stops of motorists, although no one who was pulled over was handcuffed, had force used on them or was issued a citation.
“We are pressing forward with this to make sure that we find everybody involved and take the appropriate steps,” Beck said.
The cadet program has more than 2,300 active participants, and Beck continued to express support for the program to the commissioners.
“Even though we are very disappointed and unsatisfied with what happened over the last week, I realize the value of the program and that it is an important way for many young people in Los Angeles to increase their chance for success in later years, even if they don’t become police officers, and actually most don’t, but I think it prepares for life like so many quality youth programs do,” Beck said.
Matt Johnson, the president of the commission, also expressed his support for the program, which he called “valuable,” and said he doesn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Beck did not say exactly when the four additional cadets were arrested.
An LAPD supervisor doing inventory discovered that a squad car was missing from the 77th Street station on Wednesday, and the investigation quickly identified a female cadet caught on camera driving it off the lot, Beck said last week.
Police spotted two squad cars driving in tandem Wednesday night around 9:35 p.m. near the 77th Street station, leading to the chases.
One of the cruisers crashed in the area of 77th and San Pedro streets, where the driver was taken into custody, police said. The driver of the other stolen cruiser crashed into a vehicle at Adams Boulevard and Central Avenue, and that driver was also was taken into custody.
During one of the pursuits, an officer crashed into a civilian vehicle near the intersection of Gage Avenue and Broadway, but no one was seriously injured.
Three cadets were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the crashes, with a third missing cruiser found parked on a street near the station.
Investigators believe the cadets used their knowledge of the LAPD’s computer inventory system to check the vehicles out under the name of a sergeant who was on vacation, Beck said.
The chief also said he “was not sure” how long the cars had been missing, but one of them may have been gone for two weeks.
The LAPD has more than 1,800 black-and-white squad vehicles but they are not all used every day, and because of the suspects’ familiarity with the computer system, they were able to conceal the thefts, Beck said.
The vehicles were taken from 77th Street Division Station and the Central Division. Over the weekend the LAPD suspended the cadet programs at the 77th Street and Pacific divisions.
Beck also said last week that the suspects were in possession of some LAPD equipment, including radios and a bullet-proof vest, although no firearms are believed to be missing.
Beck told the commissioners there had been some lax oversight of equipment at the 77th Street station and that procedures there “can and will be improved.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers, reacted harshly to Beck’s comments about lax oversight and said reductions in staffing at the station’s kit room may have been a factor.
“Every day Los Angeles’ police officer staffing crisis puts resident’s safety at-risk and this extends to each patrol divisions’ inadequate Kit Room security,” according to a statement from the LAPPL. “With fewer and fewer officers available to keep all Angelenos safe, these types of catastrophes will continue unless bold action is taken. Los Angeles has a police officer recruitment and retention problem and we urge Chief Beck to provide solutions and not band-aids to ensure there are enough officers on patrol to reduce violent crime and emergency response times, and prevent incidents like this in the future.”
–City News Service
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