Teen LAPD cadets allegedly steal patrol cars, impersonate officers, chief says

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Racing through the streets of South L.A.in a pair of stolen police cruisers, three teenage cadets led LAPD officers on auto chases that ended in separate crashes, Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday afternoon.

An officer who was patrolling in South Los Angeles on Wednesday saw two of the stolen cruisers driving together and tried to pull them over.

A third police cruiser, stolen in May, was found parked at one cadet's south Los Angeles home.

The three teenagers were arrested Wednesday.

One of the vehicles that crashed was stolen from a parking garage at the Los Angeles Police Department's Central Division, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

Beck says he's ordered a full review of the cadet program and the department's procedures for managing its cars and equipment. When asked if one of the vehicles had been missing since late May, Beck said it may be possible that one was but it was too early in the investigation to know for sure.

The teens, aged 15, 16 and 17, were part of a program for volunteers who work in police stations and go through an academy to learn about the criminal justice system. One teen was also wearing an LAPD bulletproof vest at the time of the arrest. As noted at the L.A. Times, the cruisers would have to be signed out through an automated system before they are allowed out of the department motor pool; Beck said that the cadets used the identity of a sergeant (who was on vacation) to take the cruisers out. "We're going to see what we can do better", Beck said.

The theft went undetected until Wednesday, when a watch commander doing daily inventory noticed two black-and-white LAPD patrol vehicles missing from their fleet.

What followed apparently were two separate pursuits.

Police said the teens were brought in for questioning following the arrest and one confessed to stealing a third patrol auto, which they possibly had for weeks.

A woman suffered a minor injury at the end of one of the pursuits, said Josh Rubenstein, a police spokesman.

The teenagers were booked on charges including stealing the police vehicles and theft of other property found inside the cars. "The vast majority of these young people come from hard neighborhoods, and have taken to the Los Angeles Police Department as not only mentors, but as a way to improve their education and increase their opportunities", said Beck. All 1,800 vehicles are accounted for, Beck said, and no firearms were ever missing.

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