The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) is asking for a new law specifically targeting catalytic converter theft as officials said the lack of specific prohibitions targeting the thefts are preventing officers from detering, let alone solving, the vast majority of thefts in the city.
Police Chief Ramon Batista wrote to the council saying that 99% of catalytic converter theft cases in Santa Monica remain unsolved due to a lack of specific penalties targeting the crime.
According to Batista, there is no legislation at the city, state, or federal level specifically addressing catalytic converter thefts or the recycling and sale of unlawfully obtained converters. In addition, there is no requirement for individuals to provide proof of how they obtained catalytic converters. The lack of rules limits law enforcement’s ability to prevent thefts and seize suspected stolen converters should they find them in the absence of a victim or witness.
Batista said the theft of catalytic converters has been a growing issue in Santa Monica and across the country in recent years. In 2020, there were 214 reported thefts, followed by 281 in 2021 and 312 in 2022. As of April 2023, there have been 151 reported thefts, averaging around 50 incidents per month, indicating a rising trend.
The rise in thefts can be attributed to the increasing value of precious metals found in catalytic converters, such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. The converters can be easily removed from vehicles using a reciprocating saw, requiring little sophistication on the part of the criminals. The stolen converters are then sold to scrap metal dealers, who extract the valuable metals for profit. The lack of serial numbers or identifying markers on the converters makes it challenging for law enforcement to investigate and trace them.
To address the problem SMPD, in collaboration with the City Attorney’s Office, is proposing an ordinance that would make it illegal to possess a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle, unless the possessor can provide valid documentation or proof of lawful ownership.
Batista said the proposed Catalytic Converter Ordinance aims to address the problem by establishing zero-tolerance for thefts, imposing sanctions on the possession of stolen converters, and preventing offenders from profiting through their sale and recycling. It also aims to provide justice to the victims whose cases have gone unsolved and reduce the negative impact of these thefts on crime statistics. In his staff report, he said the ordinance would help SMPD to deter thefts and gradually reduce the number of incidents.
The item will be discussed at a special council meeting today (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The agenda also includes appointments to several commissions and a hearing on a labor dispute with city employees.