No good deed goes unpunished, as the folk saying goes, and the Los Angeles Police Department has solved the mystery of what happened to three of their police cruisers. Three teenage cadets, 15, 16 and 17 years old, saw an opportunity for a joy ride, and took it.
The three, including a girl, were members of the department’s “cadets,” hailed as a success in building partnerships between police officers and the city’s young, many of them “troubled” and from troubled neighborhoods, of which Los Angeles has plenty.
The cadets take a 16-hour course in “life-building skills,” and work with the police as volunteers at Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games and the Los Angeles Marathon. Baseball games are well and good, for most of the 2,300 cadets, but there’s no thrill like speeding down the avenue, lights flashing and siren wailing, and sometimes even trying to impersonate a policeman, as difficult as that may be for a 16-year-old.
Chief Charlie Beck ordered “a top-to-bottom review” of the incident about how it happened. “We’re going to look at this, how they did it, and we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
How they did it was to apply teenage curiosity and youthful ingenuity to break into the department’s computer system. The cruisers must be signed out through a computerized procedure before they can be driven out of the department motor pool, but the cadets used the name and password of a police sergeant they knew was on vacation. “They were sophisticated enough to game the system,” says Chief Beck.
Shortly after the cars were discovered to be missing, the search focused on a 16-year-old girl after a video camera showed her refueling the car at a department gasoline pump. Two hours later, two of the missing cars were seen together by police, but the drivers ignored police commands to pull to the side of the avenue. Both cars sped away and led other police cars on chases through the crowded streets before one crashed into a building and the other hit an “uninvolved motorist.” Nobody was hurt.
Police recovered a bulletproof vest worn by one of the cadets, and two tasers and two police radios. A third cruiser was discovered missing, and it was recovered on a street near a police station. Peace descended on the streets, if only for a moment, and the police cadets were taken into custody by annoyed — and slightly chagrined — police officers. Real ones.
“We’re very proud of our cadet program,” Chief Beck says. “I don’t want the actions of these three cadets to reflect on the other 2,300 cadets.” It’s too bad for the three cadets, who blew off an opportunity of a lifetime. They might have grown up to be real cops.
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