Organized theft rings from Northern California are targeting the vehicles of tourists and other visitors at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, the sprawling urban wilderness that is home to some of the city’s most famous attractions.

Thieves break into vehicles, particularly rental cars, in the most popular areas of the park and take off with valuables in seconds, Los Angeles police officials told a press conference Tuesday in front of the iconic triple-domed Griffith Observatory.

“Car thieves target property left in plain sight such as luggage, purses, electronics, laptops, tablets, expensive sunglasses, even passports,” said Capt. Gary Walters, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s northeast area patrol.

The mountainous park sprawls over more than 4,200 acres in the middle of the city. In addition to the observatory, it is home to the Hollywood sign, the Greek Theatre, the LA Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, the Travel Town railroad museum and the LA Equestrian Center. Daily visitors include hikers, joggers and bicyclists.

The park is patrolled by city police, park rangers and community volunteers.

Detective Michael Ventura said some of the thieves are local but surveillance camera footage of license plates shows that many are organized groups that use rental cars to drive down from Northern California to Griffith Park.

Ventura said his department has primarily been sharing information about the crimes with authorities in San Francisco and Oakland.

In particular, the thieves look for rental cars that can easily be identified by markings the rental companies use to scan vehicles going in and out of their lots, Ventura said.

He urged visitors to leave their valuables at their lodging or lock them out of sight in the trunk of their car.

“Your windshield’s been broken and your property’s been taken, that’s probably the fastest way to ruin somebody’s vacation,” he said.

Submitted by Associated Press