BMW Bandits Target L.A.'s Westside

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeTheftAutomotive EquipmentVehiclesInsurance

WEST LOS ANGELES -- Burglars are targeting BMW's on the Westside and Mid-Wilshire areas of Los Angeles, stealing expensive auto parts but leaving behind cellphones and laptop computers, according to police. More than 50 BMW's have been hit in recent months.

Investigators say expensive air bags, that cost thousands of dollars to replace, and high-end headlights are being carefully removed from BMW 3 and 5 series vehicles by the burglars.

More than 40 crimes have been reported in the Mid-Wilshire area and another 14 in West L.A., according to Los Angeles police Det. Mike Smith, an expert on auto burglaries.

The radio is no longer the target of thieves, but the air bag has become the auto burglar's favorite item to steal, according to experts. They're relatively easy to steal and easy to sell on the black market. More than 10% of all automobile thefts involve the theft of the air bags, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies.

Detectives first learned of the thefts in April and quickly began tracking similar crimes. The burglars are described as skillful and know how to access the airbags in minutes without damaging them.

The crimes occur at night but the pattern has been mostly random. Many of the crimes did, however, occur in the area bound by Waring Avenue to the north, La Cienega Boulevard to the west, Hayworth Avenue to the east and 6th Street to the south.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates at least 50,000 air bags are stolen annually.

The black market for the prominent safety devices has soared in recent years, with criminals getting hundred of dollars for an item that can cost a customer up to $2,500 for a pair.

Anyone with information about the suspect or suspects behind the thefts can contact the Wilshire station at (213) 473-0476.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times