SF Police Chief Releases Statement In Support of Officers’ Decision to Not Arrest Alleged Catalytic Converter Thief

After catching an enormous amount of flak for releasing an alleged catalytic converter villain — and, apparently, giving him directions on how to get back home — SF Police Chief William Scott released a statement just before the weekend, supporting the decision of the officers who didn’t ‘t arrest the man.

Catalytic converter thefts in Northern California have absolutely exploded in the past few years. The number of reported catalytic converter thefts rose from 1,300 in 2018… to more than 52,000 in 2021; that’s a 40-fold increase in thefts recorded during that three-year period. This number is also likely not representative of the total number of catalytic converter thefts, as many aren’t reported to local police departments.

On August 16 at 3:00 am, San Francisco Police officers from Richmond Station responded to the area of ​​24th Avenue and Anza Street for what was believed to be another possible catalytic converter theft in progress. However, when officers arrived on the scene and after detaining a male suspect, they determined, per a release from SF Police Chief Willliam Scott, that “probable cause did not exist to make an arrest at that time.”

So they set him on his way… but not before giving him directions to the nearest bus stop, according to the Chronicle.

Suffice it to say there’s been an uproar and a good amount of “scrutiny” around the entire situation. Before the weekend — at around 5:30 pm Friday when everyone’s getting ready to stroll into the weekend, of course — SF Police Chief William Scott released a statement addressing the incident and criticisms.

“This case has been the subject of public scrutiny and media attention across several platforms, which has jeopardized the public trust that the SFPD has worked hard to earn,” Scott writes in a lengthy press release, having previously added that he supports the officers’ decision. “There will always be areas where we can improve. We welcome and expect public scrutiny which often leads to areas of improvement.”

In the release, Scott notes that the suspect was observed by a witness under a vehicle; the witness could hear metal being sawed. When officers arrived on the scene, the suspect was standing next to the vehicle and was in possession of a car jack; officers, too, observed that the catalytic converter was damaged.

But, alas, no cutting tools were located on the suspect or in the area, and officers were apparently unable to locate the owner of the vehicle to determine the extent of the damage — and to prove if it was recent or not.

This lack of concrete information led to the officers choosing to not arrest him. Scott wrote in the Friday afternoon release he “[understands] that people who see someone they believe is committing a crime want that person arrested, but that requires all the elements of the crime to be met.”

Scott also waxed that when on-site officers determine there is not enough evidence to arrest an individual, which can coincide with a need for a further investigation, they may release that person pursuant to “Penal Code section 849(b).” This release, however, does not mean the “end of the investigation, but often just the beginning.”

Crimes associated with “tampering with a vehicle” and acts of vandalism — the latter illegal stunt capable of being escalated to a felony charge, should the damages found to be over $400; catalytic converter repairs can range between $945 and $2,475 — remain under investigation, per Scott.

“When faced with the decision to make an arrest, and in looking at the totality of the circumstances, SFPD Officers determined that there was not probable cause to arrest the suspect,” he writes before reiterating that he supports “their decision because the facts, as I know them, confirm that there was not probable cause.”

Related: SFPD Catches Catalytic Converter Thief In the Act, Lets Him Go, Then Gives Him Directions Home

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images