Police arrested two men on suspicion of committing the theft and three others on charges of possession of the three recovered weapons, Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.
Police said they are continuing their search for the weapons, which they said included about 15 MP-5 submachine guns and a similar number of large caliber handguns.
Although the guns had been altered to fire plastic pellets for training exercises, it is possible for them to be restored to fire regular ammunition. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has downplayed that possibility, however gun experts and online tutorials suggest that the process is relatively simple and requires only a few parts.
The company that manufactures the conversion kits used by the LAPD has an instructional video on its website that walks a viewer through the steps of returning an MP-5 to its original form in about five minutes. At least some of the parts required to change the MP-5 back to live firing were for sale on a gun supply website. It was unclear, however, what documentation or background checks would be required to purchase them.
The two men who allegedly broke into the building were “low-level burglars” who were looking to strip the building of copper wiring to support their drug habits, Smith said. “The just happened to get lucky with the guns?and got rid of them as quickly as they could,” he said.
Police are continuing to search for the weapons, Smith said.
Police initially tried to keep word of the burglary a secret and confirmed it only after receiving inquiries from The Times. Deputy Chief Michael Downing confirmed that officers had left the weapons in a locked box on the first floor of a vacant downtown building on Oct. 12. The building, once home to garment manufacturing companies, had been donated to the LAPD for SWAT training exercises. Members of the elite unit were scheduled to train at the facility the next morning.
Although the thieves had to cut through bolt locks on three doors and force their way through a metal roll gate to get to the guns, the theft was embarrassing for the SWAT unit. It is one of the most prestigious assignments in the department and its members are entrusted to use specialized weaponry and trained to methodically think through the possible outcomes of situations before acting.
Downing said the decision to leave the guns in the building overnight violated department safety procedures and that “appropriate measures” had been taken in response to the gaffe.
Adding to the embarrassment on Friday, police said that of the three guns recovered, one was an AR-15 assault rifle that SWAT officers did not know had been stolen.