By CBSLA Staff

COSTA MESA (CBSLA) — As catalytic converter theft continues to dramatically increase, police in Costa Mesa have devised a few ways to catch these thieves, from etching unique marks onto the parts to now starting a bait car operation.

“It’s very similar to putting a tracker on packages,” said Costa Mesa Police Chief Ron Lawrence. “Same type of concept so you never know.”

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Just like many cities in the Southland, Costa Mesa saw a sizeable spike in catalytic converter theft in the past two years. In 2020, 115 catalytic converters were reported stolen in the city. In 2021, that number almost tripled to 318.

Costa Mesa police have put up signs warning of the bait car operations.

In an effort to stem the thefts and catch criminals in the act, the Costa Mesa Police Department has set up bait cars in key areas around the city. They also placed signs warning potential thieves of this operation, to dissuade them from committing any crimes.

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In the past, Costa Mesa police have held free etch events, where the residents can get their catalytic converters etched with their license plate number.

“I had heard about catalytic converters being stolen so the measure that I took was to have my license plate etched on it in case it was stolen so it could be returned to me,” said Gabe Villa, a victim of catalytic converter theft.

Authorities were able to track down Villa’s catalytic converter after their placed a tracker on the suspect’s vehicle, and with his license plate etched onto the precious auto part, authorities returned it to him 10 days later.

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“It’s really awesome, said Villa. “I was out a few hundred dollars versus a few thousand dollars.”