Crime & Justice

Teen LAPD cadets allegedly steal patrol cars, impersonate officers, chief says

File: A police car is seen at the unveiling of two new Ford Fusion hybrid pursuit-rated police cars at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on April 10, 2017.
File: A police car is seen at the unveiling of two new Ford Fusion hybrid pursuit-rated police cars at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on April 10, 2017.
David McNew/Getty Images

Three teenage Los Angeles Police Department cadets were arrested Wednesday night after allegedly stealing three patrol cars from their own department, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday afternoon. The cadets may have also been impersonating police officers after stealing the vehicles, he added.

On Wednesday night, after officers realized two of the department’s patrol cars were missing from the LAPD lot, police discovered them driving side-by-side down a street in Central L.A. The cadets led officers on a chase through Central and South L.A. Both of them collided with other cars, Beck said. 

All three cadets — aged 15, 16 and 17 — were involved in the chase and were charged with stealing three LAPD patrol cars, along with two LAPD tasers, two radios and a bulletproof vest, Beck said. 

An investigation later led police to the third missing patrol car, parked near the department's 77th Street station, Beck said.

“These young people are at a very volatile time in their lives,” Beck said. “All of us can think back to the mistakes we made. They may not be as egregious as this. But we don’t want to give anybody the ability to cross the line as they did.”

Beck also announced Thursday he would launch a "top-to-bottom" review of the cadet program, reviewing the department's inventory system for its 1,800 patrol cars. 

Over 2,300 active cadets work for the department in intern-like roles, Beck said. More than 8,000 have gone through the program since he’s been chief, most of which come from "difficult" neighborhoods, he said.

"We're very proud of our cadets," he said. "And I don't want the actions of these three individuals to reflect negatively on the other 2,300." 

The three cadets were familiar with the accounting system for the cars, Beck said, which allowed them to manipulate the system and mask the cars’ disappearance for some time.

"It appears, at this point, that they accessed our inventory system, logged into a sergeant's name who they knew that was on vacation," he said. "And they impersonated him to cover their use of the vehicles."

Beck is also calling for any residents of South, Central L.A. or Inglewood who may have been encountered by "very young-appearing male and female partners" to come forward to aid in the department's investigation.

The identities of the three juvenile cadets will not be released by the department for legal reasons, Beck added.