A high-speed chase of three burglary suspects turned into a foot chase Tuesday afternoon when the suspects exited the southbound 405 Freeway at Skirball, hopped out of their car, and ran into the heavy brush that covers the hills of the Sepulveda Pass.
That was when Los Angeles Police Department officials called in an elite group of officers that very few people even know exists: the "Off Road Enforcement Unit."
The unit uses motorcycles built for dirt to go where other officers cannot. On Tuesday, they found an outstanding suspect who hid in the hillside brush.
"We were able to get to a location where patrol officers and cars were not able to get to," Officer Hector Carbajal said. "I spotted him and the rest of the team came in, and we basically took him into custody."
The officers cut sporty figures, riding their bikes up steep hills while clad in white, storm trooper-style helmets and uniforms.
"Last time I chased a suspect up a mountain, it's probably been a long time," said Officer James York, one of those on the team that apprehended the suspects. "We're able to crash through brush a lot easier than a patrol officer would."
The pursuit, broadcast live on the NBC4, gave many viewer their first glimpse at the Off-Road Enforcement Unit.
"They've never seen these bikes before -- even members of our own department, they don't realize we exist," Carbajal said.
The off-road unit was created by LAPD’s Valley Traffic Division during the 1960s.
It’s a part-time job for the 11 officers who make up the unit, which will add four more officers by the end of the month. There's a waiting list to get into the unit.
The unit trains in the foothills near the Hansen Dam in the northeast San Fernando Valley, working in rugged hillside terrain of city parks and on fire roads.
Most of the members of the unit have their own personal dirt bikes, so work can sometimes seem like a pleasure for these off-road enthusiasts.
"I've been riding dirt bikes since I was a little kid," York said. "Once I saw the department had the off-road unit, my goal was to get over here."