The theft of catalytic converters from automobiles has been on the rise in the past year and now the Los Angeles City Council is proposing new stiffer penalties for thieves, including a punishment for anyone in possession of a stolen converter.
Catalytic converter thieves could face up to $1,000 in fines or up to six months in jail under a Los Angeles City Council ordinance. Current penalties for stealing the car part include petty theft, which can be charged as a misdemeanor, or grand theft, which can be charged as a felony.
Police say it’s difficult to hold suspected thieves accountable because they cannot always prove that a person in possession of a stolen car part had some role in the theft, according to Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee who introduced a draft ordinance Tuesday with the proposed new law.
The catalytic converter, an exhaust emission control device typically found in the undercarriage of a vehicle, contains precious metals like rhodium, palladium and platinum. Catalytic converters can sell for anywhere between $300 and $1,200 and cost vehicle owners thousands in vehicle repairs, according to Lee’s motion.
The new rules would require a person who is in possession of an unattached catalytic converter to produce documentation proving they are the lawful owner or in possession with the “owner’s written consent,” according to the ordinance language. The draft goes on to say, “It is not required to prove the catalytic converter was stolen to establish the possession is not a ‘lawful possession.’”
Lee asked the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance in April. Each catalytic converter found in a person’s possession would be a separate violation, according to the proposed ordinance language.
Lee said the new rules would provide an additional tool to law enforcement.
“This crime is hurting our communities, it’s hurting our most vulnerable families in this city,” Lee said as he introduced the draft ordinance for a vote.
The council item passed in an 8-4 vote with three members absent and will come back to the council on April 11 for a second and final reading.
In 2022, there were approximately 8,000 reported catalytic converter thefts across the city, up from 972 reported in 2018, according to Lee. The LAPD did not immediately respond to requests for data on previous years. But across the nation, authorities say thefts spiked during the pandemic.
Council members Eunisses Hernandez, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto-Martinez voted against the item on Tuesday. Hernandez was concerned about possession of a car part leading to a fine or jail time.
“I am not in agreement with creating more opportunities to criminalize our communities,” Hernandez said. “But I do welcome an opportunity to discuss with the LAPD and other stakeholders on how we solve this issue.”
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who voted for the ordinance, said that vehicles in low-income communities are often targeted by thieves, leaving families without a vehicle and sacked with the repair costs.
“When these thefts occur they are left with nothing, with no options oftentimes,” Rodriguez said. “I know it’s had a tremendous impact on certain neighborhoods in my district and I know that has been the case across the city.”
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