The Costa Mesa police deal in advance with the catalytic converter thieves: we are waiting for you.
In the wake of such robberies more than doubling the city in one year, the Costa Mesa police deployed bait cars throughout the city—they were monitored by undercover officers.
Do not say that the cops did not warn the thieves.
“CATALYTIC CONVERTER THEFTS,” two electronic signs flash for motorists, one on Newport Boulevard and Fair Drive on the east side of town, and the other on Adams Avenue and Albatross Drive across town. Then they flashed: “Pet cars in the area.”
In 2020, 115 cases of catalytic converter theft were reported. Last year, there were 318. The Costa Mesa problem is Southern California’s problem, especially during a pandemic.
“Which cars? Where? We won’t say. Just know we are in the area watching,” the police department said in a Facebook post announcing the operation, which began on Thursday, January 13.
“Through the message boards, we wanted to tell the community that we take this very seriously and hope it deters some criminals,” said Capt. Joyce Lapointe. “They know (bait cars) are there and they might get into a car that a police officer noticed.”
Spokeswoman Roxy Fayyad said Costa Mesa police arrested 16 suspects in connection with the theft of catalytic converters last year.
City officials do not disclose details of the operation. They won’t say how many bait cars are going around, but they’re just monitored by officers and can be tracked somehow.
Other agencies have used bait programs to deter car thieves. Anaheim Police have installed bait boxes equipped with GPS tracking devices to arrest balcony pirates.
In November, the Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach Police Department hosted an event in Surf City where 130 vehicle owners received their vehicle’s license plate number-motivated converters. Ron Lawrence, Costa Mesa Police Chief, said police were able to return a chiseled adapter back to its owner after finding it.
Catalytic converters are desired by thieves because they have honeycomb structures coated with precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, which can run into criminals hundreds of dollars in recycling the metals for each one.
Captain Lapointe said Toyota Prius, Honda and GMC cars and older Toyota trucks were among the targeted brands. Some vehicle adapters contain more precious metals than others, while some trucks are easier to crawl under.
The captain advises vehicle owners to park in the garage or in well-lit areas covered by a surveillance camera. There are also aftermarket anti-theft devices.
Catalytic converter repairs can range from $450 to $3,000, said Gary Fram, general manager of ExperTec Automotive, an auto repair shop in Huntington Beach.
Suspects arrested on suspicion of theft of catalytic converters may face charges of grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft and vandalism of more than $950, all of which are felony charges, Orange County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kimberly Eds said. She added that the charges could vary on a case-by-case basis.
Costa Mesa, with its e-signs, warns more against thieves who make incentive transfers.
“We want criminals to think that anything out there that looks attractive to them to steal can be part of our bait program,” President Lawrence said.