Arrests after baggage handlers at Los Angeles' airport stole valuables
Six arrests at LA's airport after thousands of dollars of passenger's goods - including Gucci bags and a US$15,000 camera - went missing
A US$15,000 camera, Gucci bags, electronics and jewellery are among the thousands of dollars in valuables that have been stolen by baggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport.
Los Angeles Police Department Captain Raymond Maltez said police had served more than two dozen search warrants and made six arrests after a months-long investigation. He said it was the largest baggage-theft operation in the airport's history.
The joint operation with LAPD and airport police came in response to a string of theft reports from planes, terminals and runways.
Police noticed loss and theft reports occurring at the airport more frequently when certain crews handled luggage.
Officers seized the stolen goods from 25 locations in the region, including the airport. Officials will try to return the seized items to owners.
Those arrested were primarily employees or ex-employees of contract companies like Menzies Aviation, and did not work directly for the airport, airport police assistant chief Michael Hyams said.
The crimes "were limited to a handful of employees, acting independently", said the company.
"Menzies supports this enforcement action and pledges its complete co-operation with the police investigation," it said.
Four suspects were taken into custody on suspicion of receiving stolen property and two for outstanding warrants.
More arrests were expected.
"It's still not over. There's a good possibility there will be more search warrants and more arrests to follow," Maltez said.
Police said that while some thieves worked together, most acted on their own, seizing opportunities to pocket items from luggage in transit.
Maltez said there was a general culture of acceptance of theft among the baggage handlers.
"They all knew about each other, although they weren't working in concert," he said. "We're looking at people who are opportunists, who have taken opportunities to steal."
The thieves were also selling items on multiple websites, including Craigslist.
Detectives were still working to determine how much had been recovered.
The thieves targeted bags that were travelling longer distances or had multiple transfers. Long-haul passengers, especially, often do not see their bags for many hours and through multiple airports if they are transferring.
"What happens is if they steal it here at LAX, by the time you get home you don't know where these things were stolen," Maltez said. "They know who to target."
The suspects had undergone employment and criminal-background checks before they were authorised to work at the airport. But those checks were limited and all the employees had minimal or non-existent arrest records, he said.
Most of the police activity was at the terminals handling American Airlines, American Eagle and some Qantas flights.
Every year about 55 million pieces of luggage are checked at LAX, which served nearly 67 million passengers last year.
Maltez said that while the airport was relatively safe, and theft was not rampant, "my advice to travellers is to be careful what you pack in your bags".