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Oceanside Police Det. Mark Theriot etches a vehicle's license plate number into its catalytic converter during an anti-theft event on March 12at Len's Auto Body in Oceanside.
Oceanside Police Det. Mark Theriot etches a vehicle's license plate number into its catalytic converter during an anti-theft event on March 12at Len's Auto Body in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Oceanside Police work to stop catalytic converter thefts

OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Police Department on March 12 joined a growing number of law enforcement agencies statewide helping drivers protect themselves against a surge in catalytic converter thefts.

As part of a new theft-prevention initiative, Oceanside Police arranged its first “catalytic converter etching” earlier this month in partnership with Len’s Auto Body on Jones Road in Oceanside. Police officers etched individual license plate numbers into 90 vehicles, a protective measure to help trace stolen parts back to their rightful owners.

“Etching events will aid officers and investigators in locating victims and provide them an opportunity to reunite their vehicle with its stolen catalytic converter,” said Jennifer Atenza, public information officer for  Oceanside Police. “Unless you find the exact stolen catalytic converter and match it to the victim’s vehicle, it is a federal crime to attach it to another vehicle.”

Serializing converters will also aid recyclers in identifying potential stolen catalytic converters. Suspects who are in possession of catalytic converters that have intentionally defaced the serial number are subject to prosecution for California Vehicle Code 10802 which is a felony.

Last summer, Det. Chris James, of the Oceanside Police Department, created the Catalytic Converter Initiative, a joint agency effort with the goal of stopping catalytic converter thefts. The initiative has more than 40 detectives and several members of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office and National Insurance Crime Bureau meeting regularly to share information and brainstorm strategies to crack down on thefts locally.

“We are talking with the DMV to have them join the initiative as well,” Atenza said.

Catalytic converter thefts have become a nationwide problem in the last two years, having increased by over 700% in Oceanside alone by over 400% throughout San Diego County.

“Those are just the reported cases,” Atenza noted.

Catalytic converters are stolen because they contain expensive metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium. Stolen converters are often sold to scrap yards for several hundred dollars apiece.

In neighboring Carlsbad, the council recently adopted an ordinance requiring proof of ownership for catalytic converters and the City of Encinitas is considering drafting a similar ordinance.

Oceanside Police Department plans to have more catalytic converter etching events in the near future and continues to partner with the San Diego Sheriff’s office at etching events in San Marcos and Vista.

In the meantime, Atenza recommended that vehicle owners take extra steps to protect their catalytic converters from being stolen, such as parking in well-lit areas and installing a shield or cage around the converter.

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