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Prolific 'BMW bandits' steal parts from more than 50 luxury cars on the Westside


Professional burglars working in Westside and Mid-Wilshire areas have targeted more than 50 BMWs in recent months, making away with expensive auto parts but leaving behind cellphones and laptop computers.

Air bags that cost thousands of dollars to replace and high-end headlights are being carefully removed from BMW 3 and 5 series vehicles by the burglars, according to Los Angeles Police Department. The thefts have occurred in the LAPD's West L.A. and Wilshire divisions.

"We have roughly close to 40 of these crimes in Wilshire and another 14 in West L.A.," said Los Angeles police Det. Mike Smith, an  expert on auto burglaries. "We believe this thief or thieves are getting into these vehicles in record time."

The air bag has replaced the radio, wheel rims and other fittings as auto burglars' favorite item to steal. They are portable, relatively easy to steal and a hot item on the black market. More than 10% of all automobile thefts involve the theft of the air bags, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies.

"They leave behind valuable stuff that is sitting in the car," Smith said.

The BMW bandits, he said, "have a very unique method for entering the vehicles" and because of their speed have yet to spotted by a passerby, he said. "BMW aren’t easy cars to get into."

Smith said detectives first learned of the thefts in April and quickly began tracking similar crimes.

The black market for the prominent safety devices has soared in recent years, with criminals getting hundred of dollars for an item that can cost a customer up to $2,500 for a pair. The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates at least 50,000 air bags are stolen annually.

Smith said the persons involved are skilled and know how to access the air bags in minutes without damaging them.  The crimes occur at night but the pattern has been mostly random. Many of the crimes did, however, occur in the area bound by Waring Avenue to the north, La Cienega Boulevard to the west, Hayworth Avenue to the east and 6th Street to the south.

Smith said anyone with information about the suspect or suspects behind the thefts can contact the Wilshire station at (213) 473-0476.

-- Richard Winton

Photo credit: BMW

Comments () | Archives (10)

Thanks for letting us know. How about a stakeout?

Yup. BMW's are harder to get into. I wouldn't be surprised if the thieves have a connection with a someone who works in a dealership. They have the technical know-how above your avarage thief.

If they are leaving behind their laptops and cell phones, wouldn't it be pretty easy to track the burglars down?

Detective Michael Smith was of great assistance to me recently. I was very impressed with his professionalism and expertise. I have high hopes that a detective of his stature and experience will catch these theives.

What you gonna stake out, a USC parking lot?

What is a better car? BMW or Mercedes?

How hard would it be to catch these folks? Like duh...setup some dummy cars...and if the police are too busy then equip the cars with cameras to record the thefts. It's not exactly rocket science.

At LoJack, we're seeing this trend throughout Southern California. In fact, last Friday, a LoJack-equipped 2004 BMW 325 was stolen in San Diego in the early morning hours. San Diego PD tracked the car to a Central Ave. location and arrested a suspect, who was booked for auto theft. The car was recovered just 30 minutes after it was reported stolen with no damage.

No damage after 30 minutes, but if the owner wanted to sell or trade it in, it'll be 50% off the value 31 minutes prior to the theft... isn't an insurance check for the full value of the car just prior to being stolen better off?

Not only Bmw but Mercedes too. I live in Los Feliz and had my BMW hit twice and also a friends Mercedes who stayed overnight. Mirrors, foglights,rear windows on convertable. Most recently I got a newer 07 328i coupe and they were bold enough to steal a tire and rim on the main blvd parked under a street lamp in front of my building. I suggested to the police 6 months ago that a dummy car will catch the thieves because all of my surrounding neighbors have also been hit so they continue to hit the same areas again and again. If you ask me the police are doing nothing about it. A clear fingerprint was left on my car and the police refused to send someone out to collect it. Its obvious those bmw and mercedes parts junkyards are the main source of the thefts. They steal the parts and sell them for profit. Never do business with those places if you don't want stolen parts and most of all bad karma because it all catches up to you one way or another.


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