catalytic converter theft
While the Special Operations Bureau at 17th and DeHaro is unmarked, it is unsubtly surrounded by police vehicles, as demonstrated in this April 2022 street view shot. This, an SFPD source said, made the theft of catalytic converters from four marked police vehicles in late 2022 especially 'ballsy.'

Multiple police sources told Mission Local that four identifiably marked SFPD vehicles were hit by a thief, or thieves, who cut out their catalytic converters. The incident may have taken place in the wee hours on Monday, and was discovered by police personnel on Monday afternoon. 

Filching catalytic converters has become a cottage industry for thieves and recyclers who purchase the exhaust control devices for the rare metals contained within them. Especially for owners of aging Toyota Priuses, dealing with converter theft has become endemic.  

“On September 12, 2022, at approximately 1 p.m., a San Francisco Police Officer discovered a marked police truck parked in the area of 16th Street and De Haro Street had its catalytic converter stolen,” the SFPD media relations department confirmed. “The officer inspected other police vehicles, and discovered that another marked police truck and two marked police vans also had their catalytic converters stolen.” 

The theft was especially brazen because it took place just outside the Special Operations Bureau building at 17th and DeHaro, which houses the SWAT Team and Bomb Squad. And, while there is no sign proclaiming this a police structure, it is, unsubtly, surrounded by many police vehicles. Along DeHaro and at a parking lot entrance on nearby Carolina Street, signs note, “police vehicles only.”  

“The people engaging in this activity really don’t think much of the police if they think they can steal catalytic converters from the best of us,” said an SFPD higher-up. 

Catalytic converters loomed large in a recent unflattering article about the department. A pair of Richmond District roommates watched a man sawing a catalytic converter off a car early one morning, and called 911. They complained to the Chronicle, however, that police declined to detain the suspect, handed him his tools and directed him to the nearest bus stop. 

Chief Bill Scott defended his officers’ handling of the matter. 

Police sources did not seem entirely optimistic the culprit or culprits who made off with the marked vehicles’ converters would be apprehended. 

“They’ll get away with it too,” grumbled a veteran SFPD officer. “And this is not the first incident.” 

The officer said that cops’ personal vehicles have been broken into at 17th and DeHaro. Additionally, an unmarked police vehicle has allegedly been stolen from this site “at least once.” 

The police note that no arrests have been made and this remains an open investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the SFPD Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD. You may remain anonymous.    


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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Wow! Nice job SFPD. What are you actually getting paid for these days? Not too long ago over 100 rounds were fired off at 25th st and San Bruno around 4am and it took over 20mins after the last shot for a cop to arrive on scene. Why is that? I guess I shouldn’t expect too much from the SFPD. I mean y’all don’t even protect and serve your own anymore. It’s a damn shame, but it isn’t all SFPD’s fault. Big shout out to Mayor Breed for her wonderful job of making this city an even more crime filled haven.

  2. In Chicago back during the 1970’s they had a game called “pit stop” that involved calling the cops to an apartment building. Cops would arrive, run into the building, go upstairs. And… You guessed it. When they came back out their car would be on blocks.
    NASCAR was big back then and those pit crews were pretty inspiring.

  3. No amount of hiring new officers will help reduce crime when our chief of police condones not only letting a thief lie to the police (said he was “just walking around for hours” in the middle of the night looking for a bus even though he was one block from the 24hr Geary line ), and letting the thief keep his criminal tools, in addition to the having no issue with the police leaving the victim’s car unlocked and thus open to more theft. Our chief of police is a criminals hero.

  4. The thieves know what we all do: SF cops never leave their fortresses. If the police did even a modicum of . . . policing, crime would go down in *some* quantity. But they don’t. They sit in their stations, collect bloated salaries, and complain about their morale.

  5. If the SFPD won’t arrest converter thieves in the act, as recently happened, it is such poetic justice, except those cops won’t lose one cent. POA would never let that happen.
    I hope my old traffic boy rep from SFPD, Officer Meyer, would be ashamed of what happens in the uniform today.

  6. Is this city becoming one long continuous series of postings from The Onion? This is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. The level of absolute incompetence in every single level of SF public service, police, supervisors, school board, mayor, mta is really a wonder to behold. I’ve lived here for 22 years and it’s always been a city that somehow limps along despite it’s failed civic institutions, but it’s really next level these days.

  7. And what exactly is the SFPD higher up mean? “The people engaging in this activity really don’t think much of the police if they think they can steal catalytic converters from the best of us.”
    So, previous thefts were deserved because we are the best??? GTFOOH

    1. Bailey — 

      I don’t think it’s all that hard to discern the meaning here. This was a theft from not just the cops but the cops at Special Operations who are in the Bomb Squad and Tactical. So this was stealing directly from, say, the SWAT Team.

      So the thief or thieves isn’t giving much deference to the SFPD, let alone the SFPD’s elite, and clearly isn’t too worried about being caught.



  8. “The people engaging in this activity really don’t think much of the police if they think they can steal catalytic converters from the best of us,” said an SFPD higher-up. <- speaking of the people who had actually stolen catalytic converters from, well, the best of them. Hilarious! Leslie Nielsen of 'Police Squad' could not have said it better!!!

  9. In Florida, there is a state law that prohibits scrap metal recyclers from giving more than scrap steel price for any catalytic converter, EXCEPT in the case of auto dismantling and recycling yards that can get fair market price for the precious metals value in the converter, but they do not sell THOSE in the same way that metal scavengers do. This law has essentially eliminated the theft of catalytic converters as they are worthless to thieves.

  10. The chickens have come home to roost.

    The SF police department stop fighting crime during COVID. They are glorified meter maids.

  11. It’s pretty simple – when the police do little crime prevention and minimal effort to enforce the basic laws, then criminals no longer fear getting caught by them.
    If the SF police start policing and patrolling the streets again, enforcing traffic violations again, and performing other crime prevention measures, then crime would go down.

    1. If only it could be the simple. If only we had not dug the hole we are in. If only we had kept up staffing in SFPD. If only we had a functional and rational court system. If we had all of the above we will still have problems but not to the degree we do now.

      1. The SFPD is more than adequately staffed in terms of pure numbers. Anyone in the know at City Hall confirms it. The problem is with deployment or job functions within SFPD (too many desk jobs and admin positions, not enough street officers).

    1. Me too. The only way it would be funnier is if someone snatched the cops’ burritos while they weren’t looking. I see a new TikTok challenge.

    2. It touches on many things. From SFPDs lack of policing to Trump’s bold crimewave without consequences.

      1. @Francisco Garay “Trump’s crimewave”? Do you mean the Burn Loot Murder riots? I hardly think he can take credit for those, it’s very clear which party is promoting crime in order to destabilize the country. There’s a lot Trump could have done better but at least he was pointed in the right direction.

    3. It is pretty hilarious. I do wonder if the cops would have given the perpetrator directions to the bus home if they’d pulled him/her out from under one of their cars. Or is that only when it’s somebody else’s car …?