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Crime spree? Gardeners' trucks stolen for equipment on Westside

August 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A theft ring is reportedly targeting local gardeners. Police say thieves steal gardeners' trucks while they work, then grab all the tools and abandon the vehicle a few blocks away. Police say it's an alarming trend on the Westside.

When you look at the very nice lawns that adorn many of the homes in West Los Angeles, a lot of that is due to the many gardeners who keep them looking their best.

But now those gardeners have become targets for criminals.

Police say that at least 20 gardeners have had their trucks stolen over the past several months. And the trend is spilling into other nearby cities.

In the middle of watering or trimming or mowing, it's not easy to keep an eye out for criminals. But that's what Westside gardeners have to now deal with since thieves started targeting their trucks.

"We went into the yard to check on some sprinklers, and when we came back the truck was gone," said gardener Jesus Luna through a translator.

The veteran gardener says his truck was stolen from a neighborhood near Brentwood in January.

"We eventually found the truck a few days later in Inglewood," said Luna. "But all the equipment was gone."

Police say that is happening throughout L.A.'s affluent Westside neighborhoods.

LAPD Detective Gabriel Munoz says opportunistic criminals are taking the trucks, but what they really want are the tools.

"A lot of gardeners out here, good equipment. It's just easy pickings," said Munoz.

Munoz says many of the gardeners are lulled by a sense of security in the neighborhoods, and all too often they leave their keys in the ignition.

"They would take the actual vehicle so you're led to believe it's a grand theft auto of the truck," said Munoz. "But then they basically dump the truck maybe a few blocks away and then basically the vehicle is stripped of the gardeners' tools."

Pedro Villa Torres says he never leaves his keys in his truck and all of his equipment is under lock and key.

"You try to avoid getting ripped off," said Torres. "Because this is the equipment you need to make a living. If they take the tools, then I have to go buy more or otherwise I don't have a job."

Jesus Luna feels the same way.

"Now I take everything inside the yard where I'm working," said Luna. "Because sometimes they will cut through the locks with bolt-cutters.

Munoz says the police department is handing out fliers to gardeners and homeowners, hoping to make them aware of the threat.

"Lock it, hide it, keep it," said Munoz. "Don' make themselves a target, don't make themselves a victim."

Twenty trucks have been stolen. The first truck was stolen in November 2010. The most recent robbery was a few weeks ago.

Munoz says most of the stolen gardening tools are sold to people who buy stolen equipment.

Anyone who has information on the crimes should contact the Los Angeles Police Department at (877) LAPD-24-7.

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