Breaking In

Smash-and-grab thieves caught in the act

Where are break-ins happening? Click here for maps

It’s a crime that’s now happening every 19 minutes somewhere in LA. It even happens in broad daylight.

"They took everything that was in the car. Everything," says Melanie Grodzinski.

She parked her Mustang outside a Northridge gym for less than an hour.

When she came back to her car, "There was glass everywhere. Everything was taken. I had my purse hidden underneath the passenger seat of my car, which was grabbed," she says.

It's happening in some of the city's nicest neighborhoods, like Pacific Palisades, Toluca Lake and Granada Hills.

To catch these thieves in the act, NBCLA took a Toyota 4-Runner and wired it from front to back with tiny cameras, hidden in places like the tummy of a teddy bear.


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We left a GPS in plain view.

Then we parked our car in an upscale section of Toluca Lake, which our investigation found is one of the hot spots for car break-ins.

As day turns to night, our infrared cameras spot a car cruising the area.

In just three seconds, a thief smashes the window, grabs our GPS and takes off. The thief moved so fast, he didn’t even notice a purse lying right on the front seat.

"It’s so quick. He’s in and out. Nobody’s going to really see him," says LAPD detective Mike Fesperman, who has investigated thousands of break-ins.

NBCLA isn't immune from break-ins either. Last year, an NBCLA news truck happened to be parked at another break-in hot spot, the entertainment district of Hollywood and Highland.

A nearby surveillance camera captured a thief breaking in and stealing a laptop.

The thief parks his bike and does a few innocent looking stretches. He sidles up to our car and looks inside. Then all of a sudden, he smashes the window and pushes it in. He reaches inside, grabs our laptop, and makes a quick getaway on his bike.

His crime goes unnoticed by passersby.

"They’re looking for a quick buck, and a lot of them are drug addicts. They take the stuff that they steal, they fence it off for narcotics, or whatever else they need," Fesperman says.

Remember Melanie Grodzinski, whose car was hit while she was working out in the gym?

Before she even discovered the break-in, the thief was already charging her credit cards.

"Within moments, they started ringing up over $200 on my gas card. They did it before I could even cancel it." Grodzinski says.

Fesperman tells NBCLA, "you’ve got to make yourself less of a victim."

That means not leaving things like iPods, phones, and GPS units visible in your car when it's parked.

"I will not leave anything in the car visible," Grodzinski tells NBCLA.

Where are break-ins happening? Click here for maps

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