All Gain for Criminals, All Pain for Motorists: California’s Prop 47 Prompts Catalytic Converter Thefts

California’s 2014 Proposition 47 brought about some positive criminal justice reforms, but in the summer of 2018 the measure still managed to win the California Golden Fleece Award. As Lawrence McQuillan explains, the law “sparked a surge in automobile break-ins and shopliftings throughout the state.” Under Proposition 47, property worth $950 or less is reduced from a potential felony to a misdemeanor, and the measure “de-prioritizes justice for California residents and businesses, who now are increasingly victims of vandals and thieves operating with near impunity.” The latest surge targets the catalytic converters of automobiles.

As Lauren Keene of the Davis Enterprise reported this summer, the Davis police department received 45 reports of catalytic converter thefts in recent months, and nine in one week. A full 38 of the thefts were from Toyota Priuses, whose converters contains precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, “a popular target in the Sacramento region and beyond for thieves looking to make a quick buck.”

In April, Michael McGough of the Sacramento Bee noted “a spike in catalytic converter thefts in the South Natomas area since the start of 2019,” with 18 of the thefts targeting the Toyota Prius. Similar reports chart catalytic converter theft in the Santa Barbara region and Los Angeles County.

According to The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism, a June 2018 study from the Public Policy Institute of California, “Prop 47 may have contributed to a rise in larceny thefts, especially thefts from motor vehicles.” Starting in December, 2014, such thefts jumped from 16,000-17000 to 19,000-20,000. The increase of 35,300 thefts from motor vehicles accounts for “almost two-thirds of the 54,700 increase in the number of property crimes in California.”

In a June, 2018, Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that in San Francisco, “auto break-ins soared, by 24 percent last year to a total of 31,222.” On the other hand, arrests for auto break-ins were down because “state law prohibits officers from arresting people for misdemeanor crimes that an officer did not personally observe.”

Reports of arrests for catalytic converter theft are rare, and in Davis thieves targeted one couple three times in four months. As this writer can attest, absent a converter, a four-cylinder Toyota will roar like a Harley Davidson. Replacement of the converters can easily run more than $1,000. All pain for motorists, all gain for criminals. That’s the reality of Proposition 47.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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