SM BLVD — There’s a new type of scavenger at work on the streets of Santa Monica.
Rather than scrounging for aluminum cans, this kind of trash can entrepreneur is looking to turn a profit by recovering used cooking oil from restaurant receptacles and re-selling it as biodiesel.
There’s just one hitch. As two would-be cooking oil collectors found out last week, it’s also a crime.
David Ford, 19, of San Pedro, and Rashaud White, 19, of Whittier, were arrested last Thursday after they allegedly stole used cooking oil from a receptacle behind a Carl’s Jr. restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The bust happened about 11 p.m. after a a resident who lives near the restaurant, former City Councilmember Kelly Olsen, heard suspicious noises coming from the parking lot and attempted to make a citizen’s arrest.
In the process, Olsen said he was struck by one of the suspects but managed to follow the two men in his car as they attempted to drive away with the stolen oil.
The pair was eventually arrested at Carmelina Avenue and Ohio Avenue in West Los Angeles on suspicion of robbery, said Sgt. Jay Trisler, a spokesman for the SMPD. Police are continuing to investigate the men for alleged theft and assault, he added.
While the arrests were just the second incident in Santa Monica this year related to cooking oil robbery, it’s possible many thefts never get reported. Trisler said there’s some evidence the crime could be on the rise.
“Some other cities are getting hit by it pretty hard,” he said. “It’s becoming a bigger business.”
Once it’s filtered, Trisler said the used oil can retail for a couple of dollars per gallon, making large restaurant receptacles potentially lucrative targets.
While he encouraged residents to report crimes if they notice suspicious activity around vegetable oil receptacles, he said Olsen’s vigilante tactics last Thursday should not serve a model.
Olsen was fortunate to avoid serious injury, he said.
“Lucky for him it was just an elbow to the chest. It could have been far worse,” Trisler said. “If people see these types of things, call the police department. That’s what we’re here for.”
For his part, Olsen thinks City Hall needs to do more to prevent oil thieves from prospering.
In a letter to the City Attorney’s Office this week, he urged authorities to take the problem seriously.
“The oil thieves have already shown that they are willing to commit violence towards people in the adjacent residences in an attempt to intimidate and curtail any reporting of this activity. As you well know, this type of behavior easily escalates,” he wrote.