Although catalytic converter thefts are down in Fresno, they still cause chaos for the victims — to the tune of millions of dollars.
“These thieves of catalytic converters have threatened our ability to do our jobs,” said Tamica Hill, executive director of the nonprofit group The Arc of Fresno and Madera Counties. “We have been hit hard by this problem.”
Hill said they have replaced 25 stolen converters, at a cost of $62,000. Not even fencing deterred thieves. The Arc now uses an electric fence and a security guard, at a cost of $7,000 per month.
“Small businesses such as nonprofits as us here today cannot continue to absorb the financial hits.” — Tamica Hill, executive director, The Arc
“That is a tremendous cost for a nonprofit,” Hill said. “Small businesses such as nonprofits as us here today cannot continue to absorb the financial hits.”
Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell is hearing the call of the victims, including Hill, one of several nonprofits in his east-central District 4 that have been victims.
He is proposing to criminalize unauthorized possession of removed catalytic converters. It would lead to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The city council is scheduled to vote on Thursday.
“If it sounds like we’re getting really serious about this issue, it’s because we are. We cannot allow these criminals to continue victimizing our Fresno families over and over and over again while facing no repercussions whatsoever,” Maxwell said at a Tuesday morning news conference at Fresno police headquarters.
Converters are an Easy Score, but Thefts Down
“If it sounds like we’re getting really serious about this issue, it’s because we are.” — Fresno City Council President Tyler Maxwell
A catalytic converter is an automotive part, usually found at the bottom of a vehicle, that helps control exhaust emissions. The part itself contains several valuable minerals, enticing would-be thieves to sell stolen converters to recycling plants for hundreds of dollars. The part can be sawed off in a matter of seconds.
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama presented mixed numbers about thefts in the city. More than 2,000 were reported stolen in 2022 — a 30% increase over the prior year. But, in the last six months, thefts are down 14%, and down 65% so far in 2023.
He said this law will help. The mere possession of a detached catalytic converter is not a crime. If passed, police can demand valid proof of ownership such as — a bill of sale with visual proof (such as photographs); documentation from an autobody shop; proof of a sale from the previous owner; or visual proof of the original vehicle.
Balderrama said this will help create more “accountability.”
“The mere fact that somebody is walking down the street with a sawed-off catalytic converter is not normal,” Balderrama said. “So then we can ask questions. It creates probable cause for us to inquire about what’s going on and hopefully make a case.”
Mayor Jerry Dyer said this bill could save residents $5.5 million a year (an average of five catalytic converters stolen daily multiplied by $3,000 to replace).
Several Recyclers Out of the Business
The city bill would be one more legal weapon against thieves. The state Legislature passed several bills last year that took effect on Jan. 1.
Senate Bill 1087 by Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, requires recycling companies to purchase only from those who can prove they have the right to sell catalytic converters. It was one of several bills dealing with the problem.
“That puts that kind of burden of proof on recycling companies. We don’t see that same type of burden of proof placed on individuals. And so while a lot of those regulations apply to core recyclers, they are not currently applicable to individuals,” Maxwell said, explaining the difference between his bill and state law.
Several recycling locations in the city said they no longer accept catalytic converters. Fresno Recycling, on Orange Avenue, accepts — but requires identification and other documents.
Maxwell’s bill also gives the city the right to revoke a permit for a recycler for violating “any applicable law.”
The city urges residents to have their vehicle identification number etched onto the catalytic converters. Several shops, including Midas, will perform that service for free.