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'BMW bandits' spreading from Westside into Valley, LAPD says

November 19, 2009 | 12:04 pm

The "BMW bandits," a group of professional thieves who have been stealing air bags and headlights for luxury cars on the Westside and in the Mid-Wilshire area, appear to be spreading to the San Fernando Valley.

In recent months, about 54 BMWs on the Westside or in Mid-Wilshire have had air bags, which can cost thousands of dollars to replace, and highlights ripped off by one or more skilled auto thieves.

BMW owners and Los Angeles Police Department officials in the Valley say they are seeing a similar phenomenon, but officials said the number of cars hit in the Valley is somewhat smaller.

It goes in waves. Usually they move from brand to brand of vehicle," said Capt. Bill Eaton of Van Nuys Division. "They are usually fulfilling orders."

Sherman Oaks resident Darin Nathan said his 5 Series BMW had its air bag and headlights stolen last Thursday. According to Nathan, the BMW was on the street in front of his house and in plain view at the time of the burglary.

He said the cost of replacing the equipment is about $6,000 but that in his case they did not damage the car.

He said that while he was at the dealership getting the repairs, he saw a 3 Series BMW that was heavily damaged by the burglars. Nathan said he has heard that his was one of seven cars to fall victim to the air bag thieves.

Studio City resident Brian Baker said his X-3 BMW was also parked in front of his home when its air bags were stolen earlier this month. He said LAPD evidence technicians "fingerprinted" his car as part of the investigation.

Air bags have replaced the radio, wheel rims and other fittings as auto thieves' 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 air bags, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies.

-- Richard Winton

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