The Board of Supervisors today formally approved an ordinance intended to crack down on catalytic converter thieves by establishing regulations and penalties in Riverside County where none exist at the state level.
Last month, the board tentatively signed off on Ordinance No. 987, and on Tuesday, the second and final reading of the measure occurred, after which the supervisors affirmed it.
Moreno Valley resident Roy Bleckert, a frequent speaker in county government meetings, said that while he applauded the effort, he didn't see how the ordinance would have any quantifiable impact, given that lawbreakers too often receive a slap on the wrist rather than jail.
"We've got 1,200 beds at the Benoit Detention Center in Indio that aren't being used, and that's a tragedy,'' Bleckert said, referring to the lack of funding that has resulted in two-thirds of the correctional facility remaining closed. "We need to start opening up that jail. The spirit of this ordinance is great, but ... we need punishment and some teeth behind these ordinances so we can make our communities safe."
Last month, when the ordinance was introduced, one of the principal advocates for it, Daryl Terrell of Moreno Valley, said it was important to "hold these crooks accountable for stealing catalytic converters."
"The victims are working class people, who may have to pay (to replace) these catalytic converters,'' he said.
In June, board Chairman Kevin Jeffries and Supervisor Yxstian Gutierrez jointly requested -- with the full board's support -- that the county Executive Office draft a measure to punish catalytic converter theft, which Jefferies and Gutierrez described as one of "the fastest growing crimes in the country."
According to the Executive Office, in 2022, there were about 200 reported converter thefts countywide, while the year-to-date number for the current year is around 320, already 58% higher.
Catalytic converters are used to filter emissions to cut down on the amount of pollutants discharged by cars and trucks. They're located within a vehicle's exhaust system and average about $1,200 apiece. Components include metals like palladium, platinum and rhodium, all of which command per-ounce prices ranging from $1,000 to $14,000. Thieves take the converters to scrap metal dealers and sell them.
Ordinance No. 987 will make it a misdemeanor offense to unlawfully possess a catalytic converter detached from a vehicle. A person caught with one would have to provide "verifiable valid proof of ownership,'' or risk facing criminal charges.
Bills of sale, auto body shop documents indicating that the converter was removed by owner consent, email messages between the possessor and previous owner showing there was an agreement to relinquish the device, pictures of the vehicle from which the converter was removed and other evidence will be required to establish appropriate possession under the ordinance.
Without the paper trail, a person caught with a converter may be charged, slapped with fines between $1,000 and $5,000, as well as possibly spend up to a year in county jail.
Ordinance No. 987 will only be applicable to unincorporated communities. It's based on similar measures approved in San Bernardino County and the cities of Eastvale and Upland.
The ordinance seeks to fill the void stemming from the absence of clear state provisions that address converter thefts, officials said.