SANTA MONICA—The Santa Monica City Council approved a new ordinance that includes a $500 fine for suspects in possession of stolen catalytic converters at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 24. Prior to this approval, the city had no laws targeting the possession of stolen catalytic converters.

Catalytic converter thefts in Santa Monica have increased over the last 7 years. According to the Santa Monica Police Department, in 2016, 11 catalytic converters were stolen, and in 2017 that number rose to 35. By 2020, hundreds were stolen each year; there were 229 stolen in 2020, 302 in 2021, and 312 in 2022. In 2023, 215 accounts of catalytic converter thefts were reported as of May 22.  

Santa Monica Police Sergeant Alfonso Lozano indicated Santa Monica averages at least two catalytic converters stolen each day.

Catalytic converters are common in most cars; they remove harmful exhaust pollutants. The part is typically accessible from the exterior of the car, usually underneath the body, which makes it vulnerable to theft. In addition, they are made of three types of precious metals, palladium, rhodium, and platinum, which make it a profitable part for thieves to steal. 

In the past, law enforcement could not hold suspects in possession of stolen catalytic converters accountable unless there was evidence the part came from a victim’s specific vehicle. The new ordinance aims to amend that issue.

The ordinance “will make it unlawful to possess a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle, unless the possessor has valid documentation or other proof of lawful possession,” said Santa Monica Detective Martin Hardy during the City Council meeting.

City Attorney Douglas Sloan said valid proof or documentation can take many forms, such as receipts of purchase, proof to be used by a mechanic, or documentation from a body shop proving ownership. 

“The context matters,” said Sloan at the meeting. “If you work for Toyota, and you’re transporting catalytic converters from a warehouse to a Toyota dealership, and you can show that, then you likely wouldn’t be convicted of this.”

Sergeant Lozano said fines may be issued based on the officers’ “experience” and “intuition.” Officers will utilize investigative discretion; if there is other evidence suggesting the catalytic converters were stolen, this will be taken into account.

“If it’s three in the morning, officers are responding to the radio call, the individuals are under the influence, there’s burglary tools, there’s multiple catalytic converters, they’re not going to have any documentation that they’re going to the mechanics or are coming from a mechanic,” said Sergeant Lozano at teh Santa Monica City Council meeting.

Sergeant Lozano also said that etching the license plate number or last six digits of a vehicle’s VIN number into the catalytic converter can help identify it if it’s found in the possession of a suspect. 

“That does help,” Lozanao stated. “It’s not required, but we do advise people to do that. It’s a linkage type of solution.