The Riverside County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tentatively approved an ordinance intended to crack down on catalytic converter thieves by establishing local regulations and penalties where none exist at the state level.
“You’ve got to hold these crooks accountable for stealing catalytic converters in our neighborhoods,” Moreno Valley resident Daryl Terrell told the board. “The victims are working class people, who may have to pay (to replace) these catalytic converters. They may have to use a month’s salary to pay for it. Hold people accountable for their criminal acts.”
In June, board Chairman Kevin Jeffries and Supervisor Yxstian Gutierrez jointly requested — with the full board’s support — that the County Executive Office draft a measure to punish catalytic converter theft, which Jefferies and Gutierrez described as one of “the fastest growing crimes in the country.”
“Currently, law enforcement cannot seize a catalytic converter found to be removed from a vehicle and in someone’s possession unless a victim can be identified,” the supervisors wrote. “Catalytic converter theft is very costly to victims of this crime, both in dollars and in the time and inconvenience of repairs.”
According to the Executive Office, in 2022 there were about 200 reported converter thefts countywide, while the year-to-date number for the current year is 316, already 58% higher.
Catalytic converters are used to filter emissions to cut down on the amount of pollutants discharged by cars and trucks. They’re located within a vehicle’s exhaust system and average about $1,200 apiece. Components include metals like palladium, platinum and rhodium, all of which command per-ounce prices ranging from $1,000 to $14,000. Thieves take the converters to scrap metal dealers and sell them.
Ordinance No. 987 would make it a misdemeanor offense to unlawfully possess a catalytic converter detached from a vehicle. A person caught with one would have to provide “verifiable valid proof of ownership” or risk facing criminal charges.
Bills of sale, auto body shop documents indicating that the converter was removed by owner consent, email messages between the possessor and previous owner showing there was an agreement to relinquish the device, pictures of the vehicle from which the converter was removed and other evidence would be required to establish appropriate possession under the proposed ordinance.
Without the paper trail, a person caught with a converter could be slapped with fines between $1,000 and $5,000, as well as possibly spend up to a year in county jail.
Moreno Valley resident Roy Bleckert, a regular speaker, doubted the ordinance would have any impact because “the offenders are probably going to be given a ticket and never serve any time in jail.”
“And maybe that’s because we’re not (fully) funding the 1,200 beds at the (Benoit Detention Center in Indio),” he told the board. “It’s nice to pass an ordinance and give deputies the tools to enforce the law, but it’s probably useless if there’s no punishment at the end of the day.”
Only one-third of the Indio jail is in operation.
“We still need to evaluate how many (inmate) beds we need, and how many millions we want to spend on beds if the courts are not going to put people in jail,” Jeffries said.
Ordinance No. 987 would only be applicable to unincorporated communities.
It is based on similar measures approved in San Bernardino County and the cities of Eastvale and Upland.
The ordinance seeks to fill the void stemming from the absence of clear state provisions that address converter thefts, officials said.
The proposal will return to the board for a second reading and final approval in two weeks.