In keeping with a trend seen across the region and beyond, thefts of catalytic converters from parked vehicles in Pasadena have doubled this year, police said.
Catalytic converters are devices used by cars to regulate emissions. Since they contain small amounts of precious metals, thieves have long targeted them in order to have them recycled to make some quick cash.
But in recent months, law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California have reported significant increases in the crime.
In Pasadena, “Thefts of catalytic converters have almost doubled since 2020,” Pasadena police Lt. William Grisafe said. “The police department received an average of 12 catalytic converter theft reports per month in 2020. For the first three months of 2021, we are averaging almost 20 thefts [per] month.”
Today deputies from #LASD @WALDBLASD stations held a Catalytic Converter “Etch & Catch” Event. Within 2 hrs deputies & detectives etched lic. plate #’s on over 60 catalytic converters owned by local community members who preregistered.
A BIG Thank U, to everyone who stopped by! pic.twitter.com/2vzjX7Tawy
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) February 11, 2021
In total, police documented 53 of the crimes during the first three months of 2021, compared with 21 in 2020, representing an increase of 152%, officials said.
And while certain vehicle models, including the Toyota Prius and the Honda Element, were favorites among thieves in the past, “Now, it appears as if the thieves are not picky. They are targeting all vehicles,” Grisafe said.
To combat the thefts, law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have held community events in which members of the public can have their driver license numbers etched into their catalytic converters.
Officials in Pasadena were considering a similar program, Grisafe said. “But this is helpful only if we catch someone in possession of the device,” he added.
Locking mechanisms meant to hinder thieves are sold, and officials also recommend parking in well-lit areas or in locked garages, when possible, to minimize the opportunity for crooks.
A multi-search warrant operation conducted by the Sheriff’s Department on March 10 resulted in the recovery of about 250 allegedly stolen catalytic converters, valued at $750,000, and the arrests of 19 people, Deputy Natalie Arriaga of the sheriff’s Santa Clarita Valley Station said in a written statement. The parts were believed to have been stolen from throughout Los Angeles County.
Police in South Pasadena arrested three alleged thieves and recovered several freshly stolen catalytic converters on Feb. 11, the department said at the time. The arrests were made by a specialized task force that had been formed specifically to combat catalytic converter theft.
“This is a national issue and we are learning other countries are dealing with the issue, as well,” Grisafe said.
“It is very possible the increase in catalytic converter thefts is related to COVID, as our numbers began increasing in May of 2020,” he said. “Whether it be that people were staying at home and cars were left unattended for long periods of time… or because people were hit hard economically and the money made by stealing catalytic converters was lucrative, I’m not sure… but we did see an increase.”
Suspicious activity can be reported to the Pasadena Police Department at (626) 744-4501. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.