More teenagers may have been involved in the scandal that’s enveloped the LAPD’s cadet program, Chief Charlie Beck told the police commission Tuesday.
The LAPD has already arrested seven cadets for allegedly stealing three squad cars, Tasers, a bullet proof vest and police radios.
"We’ve also identified a small handful of cadets that may have been minimally involved," said Beck, adding that they "may have taken a ride in one of the cars but not been involved in the taking of the cars."
Beck did not elaborate on how many cadets he was referring to, or where they were assigned.
He also said investigators are working to find out if other LAPD officers were in any way involved. "There are a number of phones being examined right now to make sure we get to the root of the problem," said the chief.
Six of the seven cadets arrested to date were assigned to the 77th Street Division in South LA. The seventh was a cadet at the Pacific Division in West LA.
In addition to Beck’s promised "top to bottom" review of the program, the police commission Tuesday asked its inspector general to conduct an inquiry – including a look at how the LAPD inventories its equipment and the policies and practices for recruiting and supervising cadets.
"I believe it’s the responsibility of this commission to look into these issues too," president Matt Johnson said. The five-member civilian panel oversees the department. Johnson asked Inspector General Alex Bustamante to complete his inquiry by July 25.
Johnson also expressed confidence in the program.
"We will fix what needs to be fixed," he said at Tuesday’s meeting. "This will continue to be a bright spot at the LAPD."
There may also be a third inquiry into the scandal that’s led many local TV newscasts since it broke. City Councilman Mitch Englander, a reserve police officer who chairs the public safety committee, has introduced a motion calling for a city audit of the program.
The allegations that cadets were stealing LAPD cruisers for nighttime joyrides came to light June 14. That's when a supervisor conducting inventory realized a cruiser was missing from the 77th Street Division station. Later that evening, police came upon two squad cars driving around South L.A.
The cadets allegedly refused to stop and ended up crashing after short pursuits. A third cruiser was found parked near the station, according to Beck.
The LAPD later arrested Officer Robert Cain, 31, after text message evidence surfaced that he had sex with one 15-year-old cadet, according to the chief. Cain works in the evidence room at the 77th Street Division and may have known about the stolen equipment and vehicles, the chief said.
Reporters at the police commission asked Beck if detectives have determined whether Cain had sex with other underage girls.
"That is a huge piece of this investigation," the chief said. "At this point in time, I am not aware of any."
He also said there is no evidence to date that the cadets invited friends from outside the program to joyride with them in the stolen squad cars.
At any given time, more than 2,300 kids between the ages of 13 and 20 are involved in the program, considered the LAPD’s flagship youth initiative.
"The Cadet Leadership Academy meets on Saturdays for 15-consecutive weeks and is designed to help Recruits lay the foundation for their future as an LAPD Cadet," states the LAPD’s cadet website. "Through academics, physical training and drill, recruits develop teamwork, leadership, and a variety of basic law enforcement skills that they will be able to use throughout their time as a Cadet as well as in their everyday lives."
At each of the department’s 22 stations, a community relations sergeant and two officers – one male, one female – oversee the cadet program. Beck said he’s tightening rules on social media interaction between officers and cadets.
"This is a sad chapter," he said. "But it is just a chapter. It is by no means an indictment of the program or the kids involved in the program."
Vowing that the cadet program will continue, Beck said it "is of great value not only to the city as a whole but to the kids who are involved."