Thieves nab 3 catalytic converters in Lakewood within hours

Map where catalytic converter was stolen
Map where catalytic converter was stolen

Thieves nabbed three catalytic converters in Lakewood within hours in early March, authorities said.

The thefts occurred in the early morning hours of March 5 in the southern Los Angeles County city, according to a social media post by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Lakewood station.

“This series of incidents is very disturbing and is something that the city of Lakewood and our partners at the Lakewood sheriff’s station are focusing on intently," said Bill Grady, a spokesperson for the city. The city "is 100% committed to bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice."

Investigators told KABC-TV Channel 7 that the thefts all occurred near the 4500 block of Lomina Avenue.

Every car comes equipped with a catalytic converter, which is made with precious metals that reduce the vehicle’s toxic emissions, outputting less harmful exhaust such as carbon dioxide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, theft of the devices skyrocketed.

According to a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department, the only information available about the Lakewood incident is a video posted to YouTube purporting to depict the robbery of one of the devices by multiple people wielding baseball bats.

The video posted Monday by user Brian Maquena, who publishes a local newsletter, is reportedly Ring security camera footage recorded March 5 at a home near Bellflower and Del Amo boulevards.

In the video, a white sedan and a dark gray sedan pull up to the driveway where what appears to be a light gray sedan is parked. Two people emerge from the white car, with one person ducking under the light gray sedan with a flashlight. Then several people jack up the car.

While the light gray sedan is being lifted, someone shouts at the thieves to leave.

One of the thieves then uses a bat to smash the back brake lights of the gray sedan, and an alarm goes off.

The thieves shout expletives at the bystander before speeding off.

"The only information available is what is seen on the video, no further information is being provided at this time," the Sheriff's Department said in an email.

Lt. Francisco Maldonado said the Lakewood station would not provide details and deferred all comments to the Sheriff's Department's information office.

Grady, the city spokesperson, said Lakewood "is generally a quiet and safe residential community with low crime rates."

Last year, the city saw a reduction in overall property crime, he said.

Days after the reported thefts, on March 8, Lakewood Mayor Jeff Wood said he and several colleagues traveled to Sacramento, where they participated in a press conference "to support legislation to address the epidemic of catalytic converter thefts."

Wood said they were monitoring several pieces of legislation related to the thefts.

Thieves can make hundreds of dollars selling catalytic converters to auto parts suppliers or scrapyards, The Times reported last year.

The devices can be melted and the valuable metals, such as palladium and rhodium, extracted. Because of the global demand for the critical emission-control devices, just an ounce of the precious metals can be worth thousands of dollars.

In Los Angeles County, the Sheriff’s Department reported a 400% increase in catalytic converter thefts from 2019 to 2020. Across California, catalytic converter replacements have increased more than 90% during 2020, said Doug Shupe, a spokesman for the American Automobile Assn.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.