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

November 17, 2009 |  2:26 pm


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