The Los Angeles City Council has passed a law, with an 8-4 vote, stating that possessing a catalytic converter without the appropriate documentation or proof of legal ownership is now illegal.
It seems that catalytic converter thieves are indiscriminate in their targets, as they have stolen from various vehicles ranging from school buses and police cars to the iconic Wienermobile. What was once considered a minor and infrequent offense has now evolved into a widespread criminal network across the country, earning them an astonishing half a billion dollars in just three years.
Palladium, an uncommon metal that has become highly valuable globally, is a crucial element found in catalytic converters. The price of palladium per ounce experienced a significant surge from approximately $600 in early 2016 to over $2,000 in early 2019, surpassing the value of gold for the first time in nearly 20 years. As a result, the theft of catalytic converters in the United States increased dramatically over the subsequent three years.
Catalytic converter theft has become a widespread issue across the nation, particularly affecting owners of older Prius models that contain a significant amount of palladium. Thieves can swiftly crawl beneath a car and remove the converter in less than a minute. Consequently, the demand for replacement Prius vehicles in Los Angeles has reached such a level that the waiting time may exceed nine months.
Amid the rampant thefts, Nithya Raman, a Democratic councilwoman in Los Angeles, placed the entire blame for the situation not on the criminals themselves, but on car manufacturers, specifically targeting Toyota. In her view, similar to blaming a woman for being assaulted due to her choice of attire, Raman believes that manufacturers are responsible for creating catalytic converters that are too easily stolen.
While apprehending criminals has traditionally been considered a responsibility of the police, it is now viewed by some as unfairly targeting specific communities. Eunisses Hernandez, another councilwoman, expressed concerns that criminalizing the possession of catalytic converters could disproportionately affect Latinx and Black communities without necessarily improving the city’s safety.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson suggested that individuals who value their vehicles should consider constructing protective cages around them or installing other anti-theft measures.
During her successful campaign for the council in 2020, Raman advocated for defunding the police and transforming them into a smaller specialized force.