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Police Adapt ‘Profiling’ Tactic to Grab Car Thieves

Times Staff Writer

Members of a Los Angeles Police Department task force are watching 10 intersections in the San Fernando Valley in an effort to arrest car thieves, authorities said.

Squads of patrol officers posted Thursday night near the intersections recovered five stolen cars and made 10 felony arrests on the first night of the operation. Twenty motorists were arrested for unrelated misdemeanors.

Operation Slide Hammer, named after a tool used by thieves to pull out car-ignition locks so that the vehicles can be started without a key, is scheduled to continue until early Sunday.

“For the first time out with this new idea, we think we did pretty well,” Cmdr. Frank Piersol said of Thursday night’s effort involving the 130-member task force.

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‘Profiling System’

Piersol said a “profiling system"--in which such factors as a driver’s age, race and behavior and a vehicle’s model, condition and value are considered--is used by officers to decide whether to stop a car. The system meets legal standards of probable cause for stopping a car and making an arrest, police said.

The method could become a staple for police in battling rampant auto thefts in the Valley, Piersol said.

Auto thefts in the Valley are up 14.5% so far this year, the largest increase among major crimes. About 15,000 cars, or about 50 a day, have been stolen so far in 1988.

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To develop the profiling system, a squad of detectives studied patterns of thefts, vehicle recoveries and arrests this year and pinpointed the 10 intersections, where it is believed that a majority of cars pass after being stolen in the Valley, Piersol said.

Patrol units and detectives are watching five intersections in the Pacoima area, two in North Hollywood, two in Van Nuys and one in Granada Hills. Automobiles were stopped Thursday night when they matched the profile or when computer checks of license-plate numbers showed that they were reported stolen.

“We picked intersections in areas that are the hot spots where we are getting most of our reports of vehicles stolen or recovered,” Detective Glen Higgins said. “We believe the probability of seeing stolen vehicles passing through these spots is very good.”

Vehicles most often stolen are Japanese-made models, particularly new Toyota 4x4 pickups and Nissan 280 ZXs, according to the police profile. The suspected thieves are mostly teen-agers. The profiled race of drivers changes according to the area where the intersection is located--for instance, from Latino in Pacoima to white in Granada Hills.

The result Thursday at one of the intersections--Laurel Canyon Boulevard and the Simi Valley Freeway off-ramp in Pacoima--was that several Latino youths driving new Toyota pickups were pulled over by surveillance officers. All but one of the drivers were allowed to go on their way when they proved ownership of the vehicles they were driving.

Four illegal aliens were arrested when one Toyota pickup proved to be a “hot roller"--a vehicle recently reported stolen and still in the hands of the suspected thieves, police said.

The other four stolen cars recovered Thursday, three in Van Nuys and one in North Hollywood, fit into the profile for the intersection where they were stopped, Higgins said. But he said he could not immediately list the makes of the vehicles stopped or characteristics of their drivers.

Profiling of suspects is most often done by narcotics investigators, police said. Higgins said he did not know of any other law-enforcement agency that has used the method to identify possibly stolen vehicles.

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