Signal Tribune: Catalytic converter thefts in Long Beach have increased 383% compared to pre-pandemic levels

June 10, 2022

By Kristen Farrah Naeem

Cases of catalytic converter theft began skyrocketing across the nation during the pandemic, and Long Beach is no exception.

Stolen catalytic converters are a hot commodity due to the precious metals they contain; people saw them off vehicles in order to sell them to recycling centers and muffler shops for cash.

From 2018 to 2019, 381 catalytic converters were stolen in Long Beach, according to data from the Long Beach Police Department. Then, as the pandemic arrived, there was a sudden explosion in these thefts.

In 2020, the year the pandemic arrived, the number of catalytic converter thefts was more than double the previous year’s number, going up from 177 thefts to 565.

In 2021, the number continued to surge, reaching 854 catalytic converter thefts in a single year—a 383% increase from 2019. 

On March 22, Bixby Knolls resident Irene Brodie went shopping at the Ralph’s on the corner of Cherry Avenue and Carson Street. 

After about half an hour inside, a message was played over the store intercom asking the owner of a black Honda Accord to come to the front. Brodie originally assumed someone had backed into her parked car, but store staff informed her someone had just stolen her catalytic converter.

“It was like literally less than one minute for them to go under and cut that catalytic converter out and leave […] so even if I had seen or somebody had called the police they couldn’t have gotten there in time,” Brodie said.

Brodie’s catalytic converter was stolen near a local hot spot for this type of crime. The 4100 block of Cherry Avenue, directly across the street from the Ralph’s where Brodie was shopping, has seen six different catalytic converter thefts since 2017, according to data from LBPD.

“Here you are at noon time, it’s not like I was somewhere at night or the car was parked in an alley or that it was just sitting there,” Brodie said. “I mean, it was a busy parking lot with people coming and going and it was so brazen.”

LBPD said in a statement that no one should ever approach someone they suspect is trying to steal a catalytic converter.  

In January of this year, a Long Beach man was shot after confronting a group of men who were trying to steal his catalytic converter. According to LBPD, the suspects have still not been caught.

If it can be done safely, police recommend recording the license place number and vehicle description.

A bystander took a photo of the thief who stole Brodie’s catalytic converter as well as the vehicle he was driving. But when police arrived, they told Brodie the perpetrator’s vehicle or license plates were most likely stolen.

Brodie said she never heard back from the police after filing her police report.

Brodie had full coverage insurance, but it still took weeks for her car to be repaired. If she hadn’t had full coverage insurance, she may have had to pay the $6,300 to replace her catalytic converter out of her own pocket.

Joseph Boche, a director with the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI), told NBC stolen converters can be sold for anywhere from $50 to $1,600.

“I’m just still so outraged over this,” Brodie said. “And that it’s so blatant that you can’t even go to the grocery store at noon time on a Tuesday. And people saw it, I mean, people were coming and going and taking pictures and they still did it.”

Brodie said it was fortunate that both she and her husband are retired and were able to share his car as hers was waiting to be repaired, and wondered “What if we both had to work?”

To keep this from happening again, Brodie has invested in a protective plate for her catalytic converter. Her insurance wouldn’t pay for this additional protection, but Brodie didn’t want to risk it and paid $470 for it herself. She’s retired and on a fixed income from social security.

“I worked hard for everything I’ve got and you’re just stealing it,” Brodie said. “So honestly, I hope they catch the guy and I hope that there’s some severe consequences.”

According to the Long Beach Police Department, vehicle owners can take the following precautions to help prevent catalytic converter theft:

  • Purchase an anti-theft cable locking device or catalytic converter shield, which are significantly less expensive than replacing a catalytic converter.
  • Etch a vehicle’s catalytic converter with the VIN or license plate number.
  • Park vehicles in a driveway or garage whenever possible.
  • Make arrangements for vehicles if they will be left unattended for an extended period of time.
  • Install motion sensor lighting around homes.
  • Become acquainted with neighbors and join or start a Community Watch Program.
  • Report suspicious persons or activity.
  • Victims can speak with their mechanic about potentially spot welding or collapsing the bolt threads at the time of replacement; this could prevent a second theft.

An analysis of data by insurance company State Farm shows a nationwide rise in catalytic converter theft; the crime increased 293% nationwide between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, the first year of the pandemic. 

Long Beach’s State Senator Lena Gonzalez has introduced a bill that aims to crack down on catalytic converter theft by limiting who can buy and sell catalytic converters. 

The bill would only allow detached catalytic converters to be sold by the owner of the vehicle the catalytic converter was removed from, automobile manufacturers, dealers, dismantlers, auto repair specialists, or any other business that generates, possesses or sells used catalytic converters. Under the bill, a violation would be punishable by a fine between $1,000 to $5,000.

“Until they stop the person or people who are buying these, this is going to continue,” Brodie said.

Read the article on the Signal Tribune here