On Wednesday night, people in Los Angeles were trying to figure out how someone stole two police cruisers and then crashed them during a chase after they were found out.
Turns out, a group of teens took them after outwitting the LAPD's security systems.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck explained Thursday that the teens were part of the department's cadet program. Beck didn't provide names, but said the teens — ages 15, 16, and 17 — accessed the department's inventory system, and then logged in under the name of a sergeant they knew was on vacation to get access to the vehicles.
Beck described the entire process as “fairly sophisticated” and said the cadets' “intimate knowledge” of the department system allowed them to “defeat it.”
“We have some very sophisticated systems, but the cadets, because of their familiarity with these systems, were able to counter them and gain access not only to the vehicles, but to shield the fact that they were unaccounted for for some amount of time,” Beck said.
How long the cadets had the cruisers remains unclear; Beck did not say when the vehicles were checked out, and when asked at a news conference Thursday, said “it is possible that one of them has been gone for two weeks.”
“We do daily inventories of equipment,” Beck said. “It obviously didn't work in this case.”
Police eventually got wise to the theft on Wednesday, when a watch commander noticed one of them was missing. That led police to a security video showing “a young-appearing female” putting gas in a missing vehicle. From there police tracked them down.
According to Beck, when officers first found the cruisers Wednesday, they were “driving in tandem.” When a police cruiser with an actual officer behind the wheel started gave chase, they split up.
That briefly gave rise to two chases in which police vehicles were chasing each other. Both stolen vehicles eventually crashed, with one of them injuring another driver.
Photos from the end of Wednesday night's chases showed what appeared to be a wrecked police SUV and four-door police car.
Police also recovered a third police vehicle during the investigation, which Beck said may be connected to the cadets.
After capturing the rogue cadets, police also found “two LAPD tasers, two LAPD radios and one bullet-resistant vest,” Beck said. He stressed that no guns were ever missing.
Beck also appealed to the public for help: the cadets may have impersonated officers, he said, so if people saw any “very young-appearing” officers recently in Los Angeles, they need to contact police.
He added that people in the cadet program — which includes thousands of teens, many of them from “difficult neighborhoods” — are not allowed to drive police vehicles.
The investigation into the cadets remains open, an LAPD spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the LAPD is attempting to make sure a similar incident doesn't happen again.
“I've directed a top-to-bottom review of our cadet program,” Beck said, adding later that he wants to make the department's system “even more difficult to access.”