In a widening investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s cadet program, Chief Charlie Beck on Sunday announced he has suspended training for cadets at the 77th Street Division and Pacific Division, where three cadets arrested on suspicion of stealing police cruisers were based.
The move is part of a “top-to-bottom” review of the citywide cadet program following revelations that besides the theft of three cruisers, the cadets may have also stolen other police equipment and posed as sworn officers. The suspensions are in effect pending the outcome of the investigation, officials said.
Two of the accused cadets were assigned to the 77th Street Division and the third to the Pacific Division, said Josh Rubenstein, LAPD public information director.
The teens, ages 15, 16 and 17, were not identified because they are minors. They were booked in connection with the theft of the cruisers and other LAPD property, Beck said. He added that all three were involved in the vehicle thefts but that it was not immediately clear which of them may have been involved in taking the other equipment.
Department officials said the three cadets led officers on car chases through the streets of South L.A. on Wednesday in a pair of stolen police cruisers. The car chases ended in separate crashes.
The thefts and chases sparked an investigation that revealed some of the cadets may have also stolen a bulletproof vest, two stun guns and two police radios, Beck told reporters last week.
Since the arrests, the cadet program has come under intense scrutiny. The captains in both divisions will now meet one on one with every cadet “regarding the severity and seriousness of the recent incidents” along with the need to maintain ethics, the LAPD said in a statement last week. Police officials will also meet with the parents of cadets in those divisions.
Investigators are trying to determine if other cadets were directly involved in the unauthorized use of LAPD patrol cars or knew of the thefts of the vehicles and other equipment.
Currently, about 2,300 teens ages 13 to 20 are enrolled in cadet programs. The programs operate at each of the LAPD’s 21 geographic stations. Only programs at the 77th Street Division and Pacific Division are suspended, officials said.
According to police sources, the cadets involved in the vehicle thefts made themselves unauthorized police uniforms and had driven at least one of the stolen patrol cars more than 1,000 miles.
Investigators are trying to determine what the teens were doing with the vehicles as well as where they went. Police said one of the cars went missing in late May. Detectives want to figure out whether the vehicle was stolen once or repeatedly taken and returned without detection, which would raise even greater concerns about how the LAPD tracks its cars.
Detectives are checking various cameras that read license plates around the Los Angeles area to see if the cruisers might have been logged and want to know when and where the cars were gassed up, according to multiple police sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details about the ongoing investigation.
Sources said police had checked the odometers of the cars and discovered that at least one had been driven a significant distance since it was last used for official business.
Beck said the cadets may have been impersonating officers while driving the stolen cruisers, and he asked anyone living in Central and South Los Angeles or Inglewood who might have information to contact police.
The cadets were able to steal the cruisers in part because one of them used a sergeant’s identity to check out vehicles using a computer, the chief said.
In a statement Sunday, the department said it will inspect all cadet work areas for sensitive materials and unauthorized computer access. The LAPD has already begun a physical inventory of vehicles and equipment after the episode revealed lax oversight at the stations.
Sources told The Times that investigators also plan to examine the recovered stun guns. Data can be downloaded from the Tasers to show whether the devices were fired and if so, for how long. LAPD officials often look at such data when evaluating whether officers were justified in using force against someone.
Police, the sources said, already know the teens made several stops for gas, including at least one visit to a city-owned pump at City Hall East.
The department became aware that two LAPD cruisers had gone missing around 5 p.m. Wednesday, resulting in an investigation that Beck said “almost immediately” focused on a 16-year-old female cadet assigned to the 77th Street Division after officials found video of the teen fueling the car at a city gas pump. About 9:30 p.m., two stolen cruisers were spotted near the 77th Street station.
A chase began after the drivers ignored officers’ commands to pull over, Beck said. The stolen cars separated at some point, resulting in two chases that both ended in wrecks.
One cadet taken into custody was wearing a spare bulletproof vest used for training purposes, the chief said. A third car had also been taken by the cadets, but it was quickly located near the 77th Street station, Beck said.
The department said Beck plans to address all cadets during a formal inspection in coming days.