A law enforcement task force operation to crack down on vehicle catalytic converter thefts in the Hemet Valley led to the seizure of more than 50 converters and the identification of unlicensed auto repair shops, authorities said Friday.

“Operation Undercarriage” was initiated Thursday following a surge in catalytic converter thefts throughout the region and state, according to the Riverside County Vehicle Dismantler Industry Strike Team, composed of Hemet police officers, sheriff’s deputies and inspectors from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Converters are used to filter engine emissions to cut down on the amount of pollutants discharged by cars and trucks. The devices, located on the underside of vehicles, average about $1,000 apiece.

Hemet police Det. Katie Rabago said that the task force had received tips from the public and insiders regarding businesses allegedly involved in illegally procuring and recycling converters, leading to Operation Undercarriage.

“It is no secret that catalytic converter thefts have been an issue not only in the valley, but throughout Southern California,” Rabago said.

During the operation, multiple auto repair facilities were subject to unannounced inspections, resulting in the seizure of 56 converters and 10 citations carrying $56,000 in penalties, according to Rabago.

She alleged four unlicensed dismantlers and two unlicensed repair shops were identified, while three businesses were found to be in violation of state record-keeping laws aimed at preventing metals theft.

“We hope this operation informed our local businesses of the dangers of choosing to illegally work with catalytic converter thieves,” the detective said. “Doing so not only subjects them to arrest and fines, but they can also lose their business.”

Additional sting operations are planned in the coming months, according to Rabago.

Anyone with information regarding converter thefts was asked to contact Hemet police at 951-765-2400, the sheriff’s San Jacinto station at 951-654-2702, or DMV Investigations at 916-229-0167.

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