LOS ANGELES -- Two boys and a girl who were part of a program for teens who may want to become police officers stole three Los Angeles Police Department vehicles and went on patrol around the city before leading actual officers on wild pursuits that ended with crashes, Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.
The trio - ages 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 right out of a stationhouse parking lot, Beck said. Police are investigating whether the teens impersonated officers and pulled over drivers.
The three were arrested Wednesday night after two pursuits ended with crashes in South Los Angeles. A third police car was later recovered around the corner from a police station.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Beck said he had ordered a thorough review of the department's cadet program and inventory management protocols.
"We are going to take this apart top to bottom," Beck said. "We're going to see what we can do better and we're going to do it."
The three were part of a program for volunteers who work in police stations and go through an academy to learn about the criminal justice system. They used their inside knowledge of the police department's protocols and used a sergeant's name to sign out the vehicles and gear from a stationhouse, Beck said.
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 May 28.
Police first grew suspicious when a sergeant who was conducting a routine inventory noticed a patrol vehicle was unaccounted for. Investigators later reviewed surveillance video that showed a young woman with the vehicle at a gas pump, he said.
A police officer who was patrolling in South Los Angeles on Wednesday night saw two of the stolen police vehicles driving together and tried to pull them over. The teens behind the wheel refused to stop and led police on pursuits that ended with two separate crashes. The third car was recovered later when one of the teens revealed its location to officers, Beck said.
One of the SUVs hopped a curb and crashed into a building, reports CBS Los Angeles. A neighbor told the station he saw two teens exit the cruiser and run.
The second SUV crashed into another car a few miles away, CBS Los Angeles says. The person driving the car was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
The three teens were arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft and other charges. One of the teens was wearing a bulletproof vest that had been taken from a police station, the chief said.
Beck said there was no indication any actual police officers were involved in the thefts.