The Tracy Police took steps on Saturday to combat catalytic converter thefts with their Etch & Catch event at Tracy High.

Event coordinator Cherise Acosta said she teamed up with the Tracy Public Works Department, which provided a group of mechanics who would engrave license plate numbers on catalytic converters. The etchings identify where those converters come from should anyone try to sell them on the black market or take them to a metal recycler.

Tracy Police Explorers and VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) registered vehicle owners, and then a public works crew including Juan Garcia, Adrian Taylor and Dan Besse got underneath vehicles with an engraving tool to etch identifying numbers into the catalytic converters. In all, the etched the converters of 49 cars on Saturday.

Tracy Police Detective Jose Calvache said that the effort is designed to discourage thefts as the etched converters are easily identifiable as stolen property.

He noted that the converters may cost the car owner a few thousand dollars to replace. The thieves are after the devices for their precious metal content. Metals like platinum (about $960 per-ounce), palladium ($1,300 or more per-ounce) and rhodium (about $9,500 per-ounce) help convert toxic car exhaust into carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor.

While recyclers can get decent money out of the devices, a converter that can be identified as stolen becomes a liability for whoever possesses it.

“If the CHP or some other local agency contacts that person – probation, parole or he’s a suspect here in Tracy -- if they come across a catalytic converter now it’s serialized,” Calvache said. “Now that gives us the authority to arrest them, so now they get arrested for being in possession of stolen property.”

If a converter is not identifiable as being from a particular vehicle detectives could have trouble proving that it’s stolen.

“This is the best deterrent as of right now with the laws we have, the municipal codes the city of Tracy has, to combat it.”

Calvache said Tracy regularly sees catalytic converter thefts, sometimes as many as 20 in a week when the thieves are busy. Most are stolen under the cover of night but sometimes the thieves strike in broad daylight.

Other deterrents aside from etching identifying information on the converter including avoiding parking in areas likely to be hit by thieves, such as poorly-lit parking lots or streets.

“We believe a car parked in the street, especially at nighttime, anyone can go under the car and get it,” he said, adding that a couple basic tools, including a Sawzall, are all the thieves need.

“You’ve got the guys who are beginners trying to do it, it will take about 5, 10 minutes. You get the guys who are really proficient, who do it all over the county and Bay Area, they show up, 60 seconds that thing will be gone.”

• Contact Bob Brownne at, or call 209-830-4227.

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