Legislature considers a bill designed to crackdown on catalytic converter theft: Do we have a problem in Susanville?

State Senator Brian W. Jones has introduced a measure to crackdown on the growing crime of catalytic converter theft in California. He said supply chain snags and the high cost of precious metals leads to increasing thefts but few arrests or prosecutions.

“The crime of stealing catalytic converters in California has skyrocketed in the last several months,” said Jones. “Unfortunately, unless some changes in the law are made, it will only get worse. Thieves often face few risks in getting caught or prosecuted, yet the car or truck owner faces thousands of dollars in repairs and the inability to use their vehicle for days or weeks while it’s being repaired. My bill will help discourage, prevent and prosecute the growing crime of catalytic converter theft in California.”

Could catalytic converter theft be a problem in Susanville, too?
Following up on a tip we received, the executive director of a Susanville nonprofit agency recently told Lassen News about the vandalism and theft of catalytic converters from several of the agency’s vehicles parked outside its office. The director said vandals drilled holes in two gas tanks, cut the gas lines on one vehicle and cut two catalytic converters from the vehicles. The director, who declined to make an on-the-record statement, referred Lassen News to the Susanville Police Department for comment and more information because the director said the release of information about the incident might disrupt law enforcement’s planned response against the perpetrators of the vandalism and theft. The director said the estimated replacement cost of two catalytic converters was $3,000 plus labor and the repair cost for the gas tanks and gas lines was unknown. The director also said other city residents have suffered catalytic converter thefts as well. The SPD did not respond to our request for more information. During a follow up call several days later, the director said law enforcement had taken action against the vandals and thieves.

According to an ABC 30 report, a catalytic converter is a smog-control device on a motor vehicle that can be stolen in less than two minutes. Stolen catalytic converters can be sold for as much as $250, yet the cost to replace the converter can rise to $4,000 according to a report from the California Bureau of Automotive Repair. The BAR report also said, “Theft of an under-vehicle converter takes only minutes with basic tools such as a pipe wrench or cordless Sawzall.” California is the number one state for catalytic converter thefts according to a recent report on Investopedia.com.

Jones’s Senate Bill 919 would attack the crime of catalytic converter theft in distinct three ways:
• New and used motor vehicle dealers would be required to permanently mark the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the catalytic converter of any vehicle before they sell it – this will create a way to identify the catalytic converter if it is illegally removed from the vehicle;

• Metal recyclers would only be allowed to buy catalytic converters that have a clearly visible and untampered VIN on it, and they would have to keep detailed records of who sold them each specific catalytic converter and make those records accessible to law enforcement. This will discourage the current loose practice of selling and buying catalytic converters and cut off the easy money thieves currently make;

• Thieves of catalytic converters should already face potential jail time and fines but under current law it’s tough to track and prosecute them. This measure will require sales documentation and a VIN on the catalytic converters as well as increasing fines – this will help discourage the theft from occurring in the first place and provide easier arrests and prosecution if theft still happens.

SB 919 is sponsored by the Chula Vista Police Department and is currently in the Senate Committee on Rules awaiting assignment to a policy committee for hearing.

“I’m so grateful to Senator Jones and his office for backing this bill to combat catalytic converter theft, an issue that has impacted countless victims,” stated Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy. “This legislation is critical to protecting the property interests of our community and beyond.”

The Irish Times offered information to its Irish readers regarding catalytic converter theft. Here’s their report.

What is this about recent catalytic converter thefts? 
A thief can take the catalytic converter from your car in minutes, while you are parked at a shopping centre, in your driveway or on a public street. Valuable, precious metals including rhodium, platinum and palladium are contained in the catalytic converter, which is basically a box attached to the underside of your car.

What does the catalytic converter do?
It takes in exhaust fumes and reduces harmful emissions from the engine. Rhodium, for example, can reduce levels of nitrogen oxide from a car’s exhaust fumes, making it useful to car manufacturers around the world who are facing more onerous car emissions rules. Rhodium is now worth about 12 times the price of gold, according to the New York Times.

So who is at risk of the thefts?
Most owners of modern vehicles. Hybrid vehicles have two power sources, so the catalytic converter is used less in a hybrid vehicle and the precious metals in the converter are less likely to corrode, meaning owners of hybrid vehicles are particularly at risk.

Is this a big problem?
In 2017 just 79 catalytic converter thefts were recorded, increasing to 96 thefts in 2018. However, by 2019 989 such thefts were recorded and 2020 looks set to have seen 1,300 catalytic converter thefts by year end. Most thefts were recorded in Dublin.