Five suspected members of a South Los Angeles street gang drove a stolen truck through the front of a Northridge gun shop before dawn Thursday and made off with at least 16 collectors' weapons in what police speculated was an effort to "rearm" after a crackdown on gang activities in their area.
One of the burglary suspects was captured a short time later and the weapons were recovered.
The 3:55 a.m. break-in was preceded by burglaries at two other San Fernando Valley stores in which trucks were also used as battering rams.
In one burglary, $58,000 worth of computer equipment was stolen; in the other, an undetermined number of television sets and videocassette recorders were taken, police said. Investigators suspect that all three burglaries were carried out by separate teams of the same gang.
A neighbor called police after a stolen pickup truck was rammed into the front of National Gun Sales Ltd. on Parthenia Street.
The burglars were pursued by police to a residential neighborhood near Parthenia and Whitaker Avenue, where they abandoned the vehicle and fled. An officer fired two shots, but a police spokesman said no one was hit.
Lt. Vernon Higbee said Ronald E. Benjamin, 19, was found hiding in a tree after police closed off the area. The others escaped after apparently climbing into a wash, Higbee said.
Fourteen rifles, two revolvers and several bayonets, mostly pre-World War I collectors' items, were recovered in the back of the truck.
Benjamin, who reportedly told police he and the others were members of a Southside Crips gang, was booked for investigation of burglary at the Devonshire Division station, where he remained in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Police said they believe the raid on the gun shop may have been prompted in part by a recent crackdown on gang activity in South Los Angeles.
"There's a good possibility that they (burglarized the gun shop) to rearm themselves," Higbee said. "This kind of thing is a standard MO for gangs out of the South-Central area."
Police spokesman Lt. Dan Cooke confirmed that a large number of guns had been seized in recent raids on the homes of gang members in South-Central Los Angeles.
The other two early morning burglaries, believed to have been committed by other members of the same gang, included the theft of computer equipment from the Tektronix computer store in the 20900 block of Victory Boulevard in Woodland Hills. Police said a truck was driven through the front door shortly after midnight.
Later, TV sets and videocassette recorders were stolen after a truck was driven through the front of an appliance store in the 8200 block of White Oak Avenue in Northridge, police said.
In both instances, the burglars got away.