The City of Irvine is doubling down on rising catalytic converter thefts with a new law that will make it easier for police officers to arrest those with cut catalytic converters without valid documentation.
The ordinance will make it illegal to “possess any catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle unless the possessor has valid documentation or other proof to verify they are in lawful possession of the catalytic converter.”
Catalytic converters are a part of a vehicle’s exhaust system that converts toxic exhaust fumes into cleaner emissions and help the overall performance of a vehicle. They contain precious metals inside of them—some worth more than gold—and can be sawed off of a car in under one minute, making them convenient for thieves to steal.
Thefts of converters have increased nationally in recent years, with 26,000 being stolen in the U.S. from January to May 2021, and 8,000 statewide during the same time period, according to IPD.
For Orange County, there have been about 2,000 stolen in 2021 year to date, according to IPD.
In Irvine alone, there have been 405 converter thefts from January to October 2021, compared to just 61 stolen during the same period in 2020, and 28 in 2019.
The Irvine Police Department (IPD) urged council to pass such an ordiance during the Oct. 26 city council meeting, where Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Bryant said that nearly all catalytic converter thefts cases go unsolved due to current laws making it difficult to arrest those in possession as a result of a lack of serial numbers on the converter.
“Currently, if someone is in possession of stolen catalytic converters, the police are prevented from seizing this evidence or holding individuals accountable due to challenges facing law enforcement. This hampers future investigation efforts and deterrence of these crimes,” Bryant said.
Bryant said one of the challenges is that the converters have an unpredictable crime pattern, being stolen city-wide day and night, as well as how efficient they are to steal, which reduces the number of witnesses and law enforcement catching thieves in the act.
“There have been multiple instances in which Irvine police officers have contacted individuals in possession of freshly cut catalytic converters that were clearly just stolen, however, the officers could not identify the victim they came from,” he said.
“Because current law requires officers to identify a victim in order to take enforcement action, the officers had no choice but to release the individuals without consequence and they were unable to seize the stolen catalytic converters from them.”
While thieves can sell the converters for up to $1,200, the average cost for a victim to replace their converter is $3,500.
“It’s really troubling to see these thefts occurring,” Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim said during the meeting. “I have to admit, I did not know what a catalytic converter was, and now it seems I’m hearing this a lot. I’m seeing it on social media. There’s been a lot of people who’ve had their catalytic converters stolen, and so it’s very concerning.”
If the ordinance is passed, IPD will have the discretion to arrest, cite, or release with a recommendation for charges to be filed later for those caught with cut converters.
Those in violation could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or infraction, with up to $500 penalties and county prison for up to one year, with every converter found being a separate violation.
The ordinance was passed unanimously by the council, which will go into effect 30 days after a second reading during the Nov. 9 council meeting.