A spike in car battery thefts from older model cars in South L.A. has prompted police to encourage drivers to mark their batteries with some sort of personal identification number in case it is stolen.
Captain Robert Arcos of the LAPD's 77th Street Division said the thefts seem to be taking place in the area bordered by Vermont Avenue eastward to Central Avenue and Florence Avenue southward to Manchester Avenue.
View Car battery thefts, 77th St. Division in a larger map
"People are doing one of two things," said Arcos. "They're either using a tool to disconnect the battery cables or they're just cutting the battery cable away to get them off quickly."
The division saw two battery thefts between Jan. 13 and 19, although police have seen as many as seven battery thefts in one week. That's abnormal enough to warrant attention from Arcos, who estimated that over a recent four-week period, about 20 batteries were stolen within his division's boundaries.
The captain said there may be a "a couple of little crews that are doing it for the profit," while others are stealing and peddling batteries to support a drug or alcohol habit. Buyers may include mechanics, car part shops or people who simply need a new one and don't want to shell out full price.
But it's no get-rich-quick scheme. Arcos estimates the return on stolen batteries to be "as low as $10 all the way to $30," depending on the model.
Part of the challenge in preventing such thefts is that a car's design is often part of the problem.
"The older model cars don't have the latch inside the vehicles like the newer model cars," said Arcos. "That's the way the cars were built – you can reach under the hood anytime to pop it open."
Most batteries are snagged in off-street parking and strip malls, which makes it easier for the perpetrators to remain unseen. While he admitted that such thefts aren't "completely preventable," Arcos said there are ways car-owners can stop or hinder a thief – securing the battery, whether it's with a store-bought battery lock or bicycle chain, will at the very least "make it a little more difficult" for someone to steal it.
Marking the battery with some sort of personal identification number – a birthday, a phone number – can also be helpful with the enforcement aspect.
"We get a couple breaks every once in a while where we'll spot a vehicle that has a large number of batteries with no way of explaining where they got it from," said Arcos. But unless there's evidence those batteries belong to somebody else, it's hard to make any charges stick.
77th St. police have caught "a few" offenders over the past couple of months, added the captain.
Photo by Asim Bharwani via Flickr Creative Commons.