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April Fool's Day arrest at Central Library is no joke

April 2, 2010 |  3:27 pm

The Los Angeles Police Department played its own version of an April Fool's Day prank this week on an unwitting career criminal who thought he was swiping a neglectful reader’s iPod from amid the book stacks at the downtown Central Library.

Anthony Eugene Johnson, 43, approached the bait Thursday within moments of an undercover LAPD detective placing the iPod on top of a laptop computer on a table and walking away, said Lt. Paul Vernon.

On a third pass, Johnson allegedly emerged from the stacks and nonchalantly picked up the iPod and placed it in his jacket pocket, Vernon said. Officers followed him through the library for several minutes. They arrested him when he sat down with his own laptop, Vernon said.

The officers discovered the iPod among the book shelves, where Johnson allegedly had stashed it.

“Thefts at the library are too commonplace, and we want to send a message to thieves: Think twice before you take someone’s stuff,” Vernon said. "We want to scare the crooks into thinking that anytime they grab an iPod, it might belong to a cop.”

Vernon said undercover officers watched the library over several days, talking to security officers and watching patrons, to figure out the worst place to set one’s computer, iPod or purse.

“In this instance, it was a third-floor end table, near the bathrooms and elevators, around 5 pm,” he said.

Johnson was arrested on suspicion of felony petty theft with a prior conviction. He has convictions for robbery, theft and narcotics charges, Vernon said. His bail was set at $20,000.

In 2009, thefts at the Central Library jumped from 35 to 47. Bike thefts more than doubled to eight for the same year. The most common items taken at the library are personal electronic gadgets, such as laptops, digital music players and cellphones.

For the first three months of 2010, thefts at the library have dropped from 16 in 2009 to nine this year. Four patrons have discovered their bicycles stolen from the racks outside the library so far this year.

--Richard Winton