Catalytic converters, a pink backpack and a shopping bag fill the trunk of a car Berkeley police say they pulled over in a traffic stop.
City police recovered these catalytic converters during a car stop. Photo: BPD

The City Council has taken the first step toward starting an etching program to try to combat skyrocketing catalytic converter theft, approving a $7,000 budget referral from Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn.

Catalytic converter thefts have exploded in Berkeley in recent years, from just 15 in 2017 to 846 in 2022, according to the city police data. There have been 312 thefts so far this year.

If the city green-lights the item through its budget process, which wraps up this month, the police department and mechanic shops should be able to etch or engrave serial numbers into motorists’ catalytic converters so that they could be traced if stolen.

Other cities including San Jose and Los Altos have similar programs, according to the proposal.

“While etching will not ultimately eliminate property theft, it has been shown to decrease it,” according to Harrison and Hahn’s proposal. “Engraving or etching your catalytic converter with your vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number may deter theft. It may also alert a reputable scrap dealer that the device is stolen and can help to identify the owner.”

Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...