4 More Cadets Arrested in Connection With Stolen LAPD Cruisers; Cadets Made Traffic Stops: Chief Beck

Four more cadets have been arrested in connection with the thefts of police cruisers from two LAPD stations, and some of those cadets are believed to have made traffic stops on members of the public, Chief Charlie Beck announced Tuesday.

A police vehicle is crashed near the intersection of East 77th and San Pedro streets in Los Angeles on June 14, 2017, leading to the arrest of a cadet driver. (Credit: Christian K. Lee / Los Angeles Times)

The new arrests were announced during a Police Commission meeting Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of cadets arrested to seven.

The investigation comes after police learned two patrol vehicles were missing on June 14, and then officers spotted them being driven in tandem on streets in South L.A., prompting a nighttime pursuit. The drivers separated and then crashed at two different locations. One of the police officers who gave chase also crashed, officials said.

Three teen cadets – ages 15, 16 and 17 – were taken into custody. After the pursuits, investigators found another stolen vehicle near the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Division. At least one of the vehicles was driven for a significant amount of miles.

The three initially arrested cadets were suspected of evading police among other crimes; the new cadets were arrested on suspicion of "joyriding" in police vehicles, Beck said Tuesday.

"I really feel like a very disappointed father on Father's Day this past weekend," Beck told commissioners.

Charges will be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system, Beck said, though he indicated one of the cadets is 20 years old. Police later identified the adult cadet as 18-year-old Leonel Flores. Flores' mother told the Los Angeles Times her son is innocent.

Inmate records show Flores was arrested very early June 15, indicating he was one of the original three cadets taken into custody. He has been released on $25,000 bail. No court date for him was set.

A cadet named Leonel Flores was named South Bureau's cadet of the year in 2015, according to the LAPD Cadet blog. Flores graduated from Canoga Park High School last year, according to a 77th Street Division cadet Twitter account.

Last week, the chief said he believed the cadets may have impersonated police officers. After dozens of interviews were conducted by investigations, Beck on Tuesday told commissioners the cadets had made traffic stops on "a couple of occasions"; he told reporters one or "possibly two" traffic stops occurred. No enforcement action was taken other than detention of the individuals stopped, he said.

Officers respond to the scene where a stolen police cruiser crashed in South-Central L.A. on June 14, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

LAPD officials have suspended training for cadets at the 77th Street Division and Pacific Division. Command officers at those stations are interviewing every cadet under their supervision – more than 100 cadets at each post – and will meet with cadets' parents, Beck said.

"One-on-one interviews, where they will stress not only ethics but responsibilities of being a cadet," Beck said.

One arrested cadet is from Pacific Division; the rest are from 77th Street.

Beck announced last week that a review of the cadet program is underway city-wide. An audit is also being done for automated equipment check-out procedures.

One of the cadets became "expert" at accessing LAPD's vehicle check-out system and had a patrol vehicle for two weeks, Beck told reporters Tuesday.

All 2,200 cadets are being required to attend graduation for about 400 new officer recruits on Saturday at USC's Galen Center, the chief said.

"That will give me a chance to not only inspect all of them, but also that they hear my message – the department's message – about two things: about their responsibilities and about our support for the program," Beck said.

The police officer's union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, on Tuesday afternoon placed the blame for the cadet incidents on a "police officer staffing crisis," saying an insufficient number of officers means inadequate security for equipment rooms.

"This is unforgivable and it's a black eye to the LAPD," T.J. Tarjamo, director of the police officer's union, told KTLA. "We have a serious recruitment and retention problem with the police officers  in Los Angeles. We just don't simply have enough."