The theft of auto catalytic converters has been on the rise in the past year and now the Los Angeles City Council is proposing new, tougher penalties for the thieves, including punishment for anyone in possession of a stolen converter.
Catalytic converter thieves could face fines of up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail under a Los Angeles City Council ordinance. The current penalties for stealing the auto 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 hard to hold suspected thieves accountable because they can’t always prove that a person in possession of a stolen auto part had some role in the theft, according to Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee, who filed a complaint. draft ordinance Tuesday with the proposed new law. .
An exhaust emission control device typically found in a vehicle’s undercarriage, the catalytic converter contains precious metals such as rhodium, palladium, and platinum. Catalytic converters can sell for between $300 and $1,200 and cost vehicle owners thousands of dollars to repair, according to Lee’s motion.
The new rules would require a person who is in possession of an unattached catalytic converter to present documentation showing that they are the rightful owner or that they are in possession with the “written consent of the owner,” according to the language of the ordinance. The draft goes on to say: “Proof that the catalytic converter was stolen is not required to establish that possession is not ‘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 language of the proposed ordinance.
Lee said the new rules would provide an additional tool for law enforcement.
“This crime is hurting our communities, it’s hurting our most vulnerable families in this city,” Lee said as he brought the draft ordinance up for a vote.
The council article passed in an 8-4 vote with three members absent and will return to council on April 11 for a second and final reading.
In 2022, approximately 8,000 catalytic converter thefts were reported citywide, up from 972 reported in 2018, according to Lee. LAPD did not immediately respond to requests for data from prior years. But across the country, authorities say thefts have spiked during the pandemic.
Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Nithya Raman and Hugo Soto-Martinez voted against the article Tuesday. Hernandez was concerned that possession of an auto part could result in a fine or imprisonment.
“I don’t agree with creating more opportunities to criminalize our communities,” Hernández said. “But I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with the LAPD and other stakeholders about how we resolve this issue.”
Councilwoman Mónica Rodríguez, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said vehicles in low-income communities are often targeted by thieves, leaving families without a vehicle and laid off with repair costs.
“When these robberies happen, they are left with nothing, many times without options,” Rodríguez said. “I know that it has had a tremendous impact in certain neighborhoods in my district, and I know that has been the case throughout the city.”