LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Three teenage Los Angeles police cadets are suspected of stealing three patrol SUVs, leading officers on two separate chases and crashing two of the vehicles in South L.A.
The entire investigation started around 5 p.m. Wednesday, authorities said, when a watch commander saw video of a young girl putting gas into an LAPD vehicle. He then checked the vehicle inventory and realized two cruisers were missing.
Around 8:30 p.m., an officer found the two stolen SUVs driving in tandem and a chase started.
During an afternoon press conference Thursday, Chief Charlie Beck said the officer was chasing both cars at first, but the vehicles went separate ways, creating two chases.
The first vehicle crashed in the area of 77th and San Pedro streets, while a second one ended in a crash at Central Avenue and Adams Boulevard, Beck said.
At each scene, teenagers were taken into custody. Beck said they are police cadets - two boys ages 15 and 17 and a 16-year-old girl. They were booked on charges involving stealing the police vehicles and theft of other property found inside the cars.
Authorities found two Tasers and two radios as well as a bullet proof vest that one of the suspects was wearing when he was taken into custody, according to Beck.
After interviewing the suspects, officers realized there was a third patrol vehicle that was missing. It was found near 76th Street and Central Avenue, authorities said. This particular vehicle may have been missing since May, but Beck said it was too early in the investigation to know for sure.
Beck said the department needs the public's help because he believes the teens may have also impersonated police officers while they had the vehicles.
"We believe that the cadets may have impersonated police officers using these vehicles. We would like anybody who has information on that type of activity being conducted by very young appearing male and female partners to call the Los Angeles Police Department," Beck said.
He said the teens accessed the SUVs by signing the vehicles out of stations using the names of existing officers, one of whom was on vacation. Cadets are not allowed to drive LAPD vehicles.
Police vehicles are part of an automated system where members of the LAPD must sign the vehicles in and out.
The car inventory is checked on a daily basis, Beck said, and added that the system failed this time since one of the vehicles may have been missing for a while.
Beck said the investigation is still in the early stages and many interviews of officers, other cadets and other police personnel still have to be done.
"We're going to take this apart top to bottom. We're going to see what we can do better," Beck said. "We don't want to give anybody the ability to cross the line if we can help it."
3 teen LAPD cadets suspected of stealing police SUVs, impersonating officers