After Historic Rise In Catalytic Converter Thefts, The New Ordinance Passes Unanimously
By Dolores Quintana
In the Santa Monica City Council meeting on May 24, city council members considered a new ordinance on criminalizing the unlawful possession of catalytic converters. The new ordinance would be known as Santa Monica Municipal Code 4.08.830. This was in response to the large rise of thefts of catalytic converters from residents’ cars in the city.
Detective Martin Hardy of the SMPD property division that deals with grand theft autos and thefts of catalytic converters. He was accompanied by Sergeant Alfonso Lozano. Detective Hardy presented the staff recommendation from the SMPD and Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office that since the theft of catalytic converters had risen significantly in the past few years, the Santa Monica City Council should adopt an ordinance that criminalizes the possession of catalytic converters for anyone who does not have valid documentation or other proof of lawful possession.
Detective Hardy then showed a graph that tracked the rise of thefts of catalytic converters in Santa Monica from 2016 to the current day. There were only 11 such thefts in 2016, 35 in 2017, 59 in 2018, 27 in 2019, and a large jump in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, to 229 thefts of catalytic converters. In 2021 there were an even larger number of such thefts, namely 302, then another 312 in 2022. For the current year, as of May 24, there have already been 215 catalytic converter thefts in Santa Monica within the first five months of the year.
Without the proposed ordinance, police who find a suspect in possession of a catalytic converter and do not have a complaining witness cannot hold them for any crime. The ordinance would exclude mechanics and other people with legitimate reasons to have a catalytic converter. Mayor Gleam Davis mentioned that the city of Santa Monica does offer a service where residents can come to have their catalytic converters etched to make identification easier in case of theft.
Councilmember Oscar de la Torre then told the story of trying to start his car one day and finding thieves had stolen his catalytic converter. He said that he thought at first that he might have been the victim of an attempted car bombing and added that he might have watched too many movies and that it was the scariest thing that had happened to him in a long time. De la Torre said that the worst part about it was that he found that it was more expensive to replace the part than to junk the car.
De la Torre asked if there was a way to hold the people who bought the catalytic converters that were stolen accountable and if they could get the parts back to their legitimate owners.
Councilmember Phil Brock said that he believed this ordinance was similar to the one passed by the Los Angeles City Council and that a press member that he knows has had two catalytic converters stolen from their personal vehicle.
After the discussion, there was a motion by Councilmember Caroline Torosis that was seconded by Councilmember Phil Brock to vote on the passage of the ordinance. The vote was unanimous, and the motion was passed. The penalty is a $500 fine and seizure of the property. Detective Hardy encouraged residents to check the SMPD website for when the SMPD hosts catalytic converter etching events and to check to find out what cars are most in demand for catalytic converter thieves.