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Paws off my cat

The Los Angeles Police Department offered a bi-annual VIN marking event to deter theft of catalytic converters.

By Griffin O’Rourke, Photo Editor

The Mission and West Valley divisions of the LAPD hosted their bi-annual VIN marking event in Panorama City on April 15. The police paired up with Jon's Towing Inc, who operate an Official Police Garage, and marked people's catalytic converters to deter thieves. There were 150 reservations that quickly filled up in the morning; people also came back with their other cars later in the day. (Griffin O'Rourke | Valley Star)

In an effort to combat the theft of catalytic converters, the LAPD invited Angelenos down to a traffic division station in Panorama City to get their devices engraved with a Vehicle Identification Number.

The Mission and West Valley divisions of the LAPD worked with Jon’s Towing Inc, a towing company that operates an Official Police Garage, to mark hundreds of catalytic converters. The event lasted from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and saw the first 150 reservations booked early on. Drivers lined up in the parking lot outside the station while tow trucks lifted the cars, allowing police officers access to the undercarriage. Using a laser gun, a 17-digit VIN code was engraved onto the converters. Thieves who steal these converters can be easily prosecuted if caught by police.

“Right now it’s an epidemic,” said detective Kevin Royce, who’s spent 2 ½ years on the catalytic converter beat. “Just in the first 66 days of 2023, and in the valley alone, there were over 560 catalytic converters stolen.”

Thieves target the precious metal rhodium that’s used inside the “cats,” which is currently $250.78 per gram. A chaotic market caused the price of the metal to soar to $29,800 per ounce in 2021 due to closures of mines in South Africa, but the start of 2023 saw the price plummet to $7,500 per ounce. The parts typically contain about 1-2 grams of the metal. They also contain 3-7 grams of platinum and 2-7 grams of palladium; both of which are not as lucrative as rhodium. The rhodium is sold to scrap yards or metal recyclers for up to $300, depending on the amount of rhodium scavenged.

“Thieves are opportunists,” said Cheryl High, a Chatsworth resident who brought her Hyundai Alantra and Honda CRV with her husband. “We hope the VIN number will deter thieves who see it. It makes the job for the police much easier.”

A catalytic converter is marked with a 17-digit VIN number. The converter was marked by LAPD officers with a laser engraving gun in hopes to deter theft. "Cats" are stolen for the precious metal found inside that can be sold to scrap yards for $150-$300. (Griffin O'Rourke | Valley Star)

Thefts usually occur at night, where thieves take a saw to the part. Cars with low suspension are usually safe, but only in some cases. Adept thieves can remove a “cat” in as little as a minute. Some perpetrators work in teams of several people, often hitting many cars in quick succession.

“We always see notifications of catalytic converter thefts in our neighborhood,” said the Chatsworth resident.

The VIN marking event is bi-annual, with the next one set in either October or November, at the LAPD’s Traffic Division station in Panorama City. Other police stations across Los Angeles offer the same services for free.


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