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Thieves Hit Parking Meters; Cost to City Tops $100,000

August 26, 1993|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police were searching for a group of vandals who have apparently stolen, smashed and looted hundreds of city parking meters in the last two months, costing the city more than $100,000.

The vandals, transients who are based in MacArthur Park but travel to other areas, use manhole covers to smash the tops off parking meters, then crack them open for the $10 to $15 in change inside, said robbery Detective Chuck Smith. The manhole covers weigh 180 to 250 pounds, officials said.

"They take buses to different locations, then go back to MacArthur Park with the meter heads wrapped in blankets . . . they steal 12 to 16 meter heads per night," Smith said.

Each meter costs the city about $260 to replace, said Department of Transportation Investigator Deborah Brown.

More than 472 meters have been stolen in the last two months, more than twice the number stolen all last year, Brown said.

Police say they have a man in custody who has confessed to taking part in 200 to 250 of the thefts. But they think the majority of the vandals, including a ringleader known only as "Mike," are still at large, Smith said.

Noel Livingston, a homeless man who lives in MacArthur Park, was arrested there two weeks ago after three local businessmen allegedly saw him smash a meter head with a manhole cover and take it away, Smith said.

Despite efforts by police, meters are still disappearing at record rates.

"We picked up 15 (broken meters Monday)," said Brown. "There are obviously more people doing this than (Livingston)."

Police found more than 50 meter heads lying around MacArthur Park in a search last week.

And the vandals seem to be aware that city employees routinely collect money from the meters on specific days of the week, so they take the meters before then, Smith said.

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