Three Los Angeles police cadets arrested for stealing patrol cars

Three teenagers on a Los Angeles police cadet programme stole patrol cars and led authorities on wild pursuits that ended with crashes, the city’s police chief has said.

The trio – two boys and a girl aged 15, 16 and 17 – “gamed the system” and used a vacationing sergeant’s name to sign out stun guns and radios and drive the cars away, Charlie Beck said. Police are investigating whether the teenagers impersonated officers and pulled over drivers.

The three were arrested on Wednesday after two pursuits ended in crashes. A third police car was later recovered around the corner from a police station.

Beck said he had ordered a review of the Los Angeles police department’s cadet program and policies for managing inventory.

“We are going to take this apart top to bottom,” Beck said at a news conference. “We’re going to see what we can do better and we’re going to do it.”

The three were part of a programme for teenage volunteers who work in police stations and go through an academy to learn about the criminal justice system.

Authorities are still trying to figure out exactly when the cars were taken, but Beck said investigators were looking into the possibility that at least one of the vehicles had been missing since 28 May.

Police first grew suspicious when a sergeant who was conducting a routine inventory noticed a patrol vehicle was unaccounted for. Investigators later reviewed surveillance footage that showed a young woman with the vehicle at a gas pump, he said.

An officer who was patrolling on Wednesday saw two of the stolen police vehicles driving together and tried to pull them over. The teenagers behind the wheel refused to stop and led police on pursuits that ended with two separate crashes.

A woman suffered a minor injury at the end of one of the pursuits, said Josh Rubenstein, a police spokesman. She was “an innocent bystander in a separate vehicle”, he said.

The third car was recovered later when one of the teenagers revealed its location to officers, Beck said.

The trio were arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft and other charges. One was wearing a bulletproof vest that had been taken from a police station, the chief said.

Beck said there was no indication any police officers were involved in the thefts.