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Law enforcement initiative tackles catalytic converter thefts

Pictured, the underside of a Toyota Prius with its catalytic converter in the middle of image. November 22, 2021.
Tania Thorne
Pictured, the underside of a Toyota Prius with its catalytic converter in the middle of image. November 22, 2021.

On Thursday, law enforcement agencies met at the Oceanside Police Department for the monthly Catalytic Converter Initiative (CCI) meeting.

Oceanside Police Department Detective Chris James started the catalytic converter regional task force in 2021, after residents all over San Diego were reporting catalytic converter thefts.

“I got in touch with Carlsbad Police Department. We went over problems, went over shortfalls, went over how to tackle the problem, and then we got people from the DA’s office on board and it just kept growing and growing,” he said.

Law enforcement initiative tackles catalytic converter thefts

CCI started with police agencies from North County, but has expanded to all agencies in San Diego County and larger agencies.

“Now we have people with the FBI working with us, the DMV, the National Insurance Crime Bureau — it's grown pretty tremendously,” James said.

He said the initiative had helped all of the agencies involved communicate, discover patterns and come up with solutions.

“We’re attacking this from many fronts, through recyclers, through contacting suspects individually, through trying to understand the whole enterprise of the crime, and our judicial system,” James said.

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Because of the pandemic, thieves were often released with a citation and never arrested. But CCI's teamwork has helped pass harsher laws on catalytic converter thieves: The District Attorney's Office is pursuing charges on catalytic converter thefts, and the city of Carlsbad passed San Diego's first catalytic converter law earlier this year.

Carlsbad's ordinance makes it illegal for anyone, other than a core recycler, to be in possession of a converter without proof of ownership.

“The DA’s charges supersede our ordinance, but it's a safety net in the event that they aren't charged by the DA’s office," said Cindy Anderson, a crime analysis manager for the Carlsbad Police Department. "Our city attorney can then go after the individual for our city ordinance, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine.”

Anderson's data show that thefts aren’t slowing down and are up 36% when compared with this period in 2021. She said this was because of the increase in the value of metals.

"In just the past few months, the cost of palladium, rhodium and platinum have gone up between 8 to 38%. That's a huge jump," she said.

James said the regional task force was attacking a problem that has victimized many San Diego residents. “I know people feel frustrated, like we're not doing anything," he said, "but the fact is throughout the county there's people, SDPD, El Cajon, Carlsbad PD, Sheriff's and especially here in Oceanside ... that empathize with victims and we want to do something to help them.”

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