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Operation Cat Scratch Thiever

Last month, the San José Police Department in California, US, concluded Operation Cat Scratch Thiever, a six-month-long investigation into catalytic converter thefts in the City of San José.


Operation Cat Scratch Thiever three
Catalytic converter thief under car

The investigation was the result of a marked increase in catalytic converter thefts in 2020 and 2021. The operation targeted prolific catalytic converter thieves and the illegal underground market that has fueled the crime trend. Fifteen suspects were identified and all have been arrested. Multiple search warrants were served over a period of several weeks and detectives recovered illegal weapons, over $50,000 in cash, and over one thousand catalytic converters that are believed to have been stolen from vehicles throughout the Bay Area. In addition, police shut down three San José businesses that were suspected of knowingly purchasing stolen catalytic converters from street criminals.


Since the start of the pandemic, the City of San José has experienced an increase in catalytic converter thefts. Many of these thefts have become increasingly brazen and suspects are often armed with guns. Suspects have shot victims and witnesses who have interrupted the thefts and in San José, a catalytic converter theft has been linked to at least one homicide.

Operation Cat Scratch Thiever two
Catalytic converter with jagged cuts

The operation began approximately six months ago and involved three focus areas:  Intelligence and Data, Education, and Enforcement.

Detectives collaborated with outside agencies and the SJPD Crime Analysis Unit to develop intelligence and analyze crime data in order to identify prolific thieves and illegal purchasers of the stolen property.

Detectives provided training to patrol officers and to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office regarding catalytic converter theft methods and trends. This education aided in the identification of additional suspects and in the successful prosecution of arrested individuals.

The enforcement arm of the operation involved thousands of hours of surveillance and follow-up investigations. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office was an instrumental partner in this project and the objective was to charge suspects at all levels of the enterprise and to disrupt the crime trend. The operation culminated in multiple arrests and search warrants.


Operation Cat Scratch Thiever five
Catalytic converter in trunk with tools

Operation Cat Scratch Thiever identified fifteen suspects and all have been arrested. Multiple search warrants were served over a period of several weeks and considerable evidence was recovered, including:

  • A variety of catalytic converter theft tools
  • Large stashes of cash (totaling over $50,000)
  • Evidence of identity theft
  • Four handguns and an illegal assault rifle
  • Armor-piercing ammunition
  • Over 1000 catalytic converters (believed to be stolen from across the Bay Area)
Operation Cat Scratch Thiever four
Catalytic converter theft tools and cash

Suspects have been charged with crimes ranging from grand theft to receiving stolen property and from assault with a deadly weapon to possession of illegal weapons. Detectives also shut down three businesses that appeared to cater to thieves, often purchasing cut catalytic converters with no questions asked. Those businesses are being referred to the San José City Attorney’s Office.

Police Chief Anthony Mata said in a statement:

“This lengthy operation is just another example of a proactive and thorough investigation that defines SJPD.” Mata added: “Our community has been increasingly plagued by these types of crimes, and I’m thankful for the collaborative efforts our detectives have taken with local jurisdictions and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office to arrest and prosecute these individuals while deterring any other would-be copycat thieves in our city.”

Operation Cat Scratch Thiever one
Large number of stolen catalytic converters in a metal parts bin

This operation would not have been a success without the collaboration of many units within the San José Police Department, including Patrol, the Financial Crimes Unit, the Street Crimes Unit, the Covert Response Unit, the Crime Analysis Unit, and the Burglary Prevention Unit. SJPD would also like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance provided by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Automotive Repair, and Copart Inc.