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Santa Monica Police Warn of Smog Device Thefts

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

March 2, 2015--It has happened recently in Sacramento, Torrance, Los Angeles -- in cities all across the state – and now Santa Monica police are warning about a recent local wave of catalytic converter thefts.

Thieves have targeted anti-smog devices for years, but Santa Monica police this week reported a recent spike in catalytic converter thefts and warned vehicle owners to take precautions.

“The thefts are taking place during the early morning hours, targeting vehicles parked curbside,” SMPD spokesman Sgt. Rudy Camarena said.

In the past few weeks, thieves have stolen the devices from vehicles both within the city limits and in adjacent neighborhoods, he said.

Similar spikes have been reported in recent months in Torrance, Silver Lake and the San Fernando Valley, according to Torrance and Los Angeles police websites.

Catalytic converters have been mandatory since 1975 for all vehicles sold in California. Normally, most drivers never think about the catalytic converters in their vehicles, since the part requires no regular maintenance and rarely needs replacement.

Attached to the mufflers of vehicles, catalytic converters turn toxic exhaust gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into less harmful emissions.

But thieves have discovered that the emission control devices contain traces of precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium.

‘With the price of precious metals skyrocketing, thieves are helping themselves to catalytic converters that contain enough platinum, palladium or rhodium to make it worth the risk to cut it from the underbelly of your vehicle,” according to Nationwide Insurance’s website.

Using a battery operated power saw, a thief can cut out a catalytic converter from under a vehicle within minutes, Camarena said.

Thieves then sell the stolen converters to scrap yards for anywhere from $100 to $150 or more, according to Nationwide.

“Criminals target trucks and sport utility vehicles for this type of theft due to the vehicle's height, which allows easier access to the undercarriage,” the company’s website says. 

Compounding the problem for police, many drivers don’t become aware that the part has been stolen until they go to start up their vehicles and hear “a gravelly roar,” the website said.

According to Nationwide, it can cost up to $1,000 to replace the device in some vehicles.

Camarena said vehicle owners can purchase anti-theft devices at most auto part stores. Nationwide’s website also offers the following tips to prevent catalytic converter thefts:

* Always park in well-lighted areas.

* At shopping centers and other similar parking lots, park close to the entrance of the building or near the access road where there's a lot of traffic.

* If you own or work at a business or factory, park within a fenced area that's busy during the day and secured at night.

* Engrave your license plate number on the converter to make it traceable

* Purchase a vehicle security system and make sure it’s set to trigger with just the slightest motion.

* Visit a local muffler shop and have the converter secured to the vehicle’s frame with a couple of pieces of hardened steel welded to the frame.

Camarena urged anyone with information regarding the recent thefts to contact the Santa Monica Police Department's non-emergency number at 310-458-8491, or dial 911 if you witness a crime in progress or suspicious activity.

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