Police struggle to deter rising catalytic converter thefts

RICHMOND, Va. — In the tiny city of Lawrenceville, Virginia, a van owned by Poplar Mount Baptist Church was knocked out of fee for weeks after thieves minimize the catalytic converter out of its exhaust system.

Several months later, throughout city, a catalytic converter was ripped from a van owned by First Baptist Church.

Similar crimes adopted, focusing on a complete of 15 church vans and 13 different autos on the town, a part of a nationwide surge in thefts of catalytic converters.

Thefts of the exhaust emission management gadgets have jumped over the previous two years as prices for the valuable metals they comprise have skyrocketed. Thieves can count on to get anyplace from $50 to $300 in the event that they promote the converters to scrap yards, which then promote them to recycling services to reclaim the valuable metals inside, together with platinum, palladium and rhodium.

For victims, the prices of changing a stolen catalytic converter can simply high $1,000 and make their automobile undrivable for days or even weeks because the half is ordered and put in. It also can depart homeowners feeling susceptible.

“Just to really feel that the church property was invaded by thieves was disheartening,” stated John Robinson, a member of Poplar Mount Baptist Church.

Robinson stated changing the stolen converter value about $1,000. The theft was lined by insurance coverage, however the church had to pay its $250 deductible and was unable to use the van for six weeks because it sat in a mechanic’s yard ready for a brand new half.

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The National Insurance Crime Bureau stated the variety of catalytic converter thefts reported in claims to insurance coverage corporations jumped from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020. NICB President David Glawe stated there was a big enhance in thefts because the starting of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an opportunistic crime,” Glawe stated in a press release. “As the worth of the valuable metals contained throughout the catalytic converters continues to enhance, so do the variety of thefts of those gadgets. There is a transparent connection between instances of disaster, restricted assets, and disruption of the provision chain that drives buyers in direction of these treasured metals.”

The enhance in thefts has prompted states throughout the nation to toughen penalties and impose new necessities for scrap metallic sellers who purchase the converters. Ten states enacted new laws in 2021, together with legal guidelines in Arkansas, South Carolina and Texas that require scrap metallic consumers of used converters to keep information of purchases, together with proof of possession, automobile identification numbers, the vendor’s residence deal with and driver’s license numbers, in accordance to the insurance coverage crime bureau.

In North Carolina, a legislation that went into impact Dec. 1 makes catalytic converter thefts a Class I felony and requires businesses that purchase used catalytic converters to get documentation and keep detailed information on individuals who promote the gadgets to them.

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A invoice modeled after the North Carolina legislation will probably be launched in Virginia when the legislature reconvenes in January. The measure would make the theft of a catalytic converter a felony and presume that anybody in possession of 1 that is been eliminated from a automobile has obtained it illegally except the particular person is a licensed scrap vendor or has a invoice of sale, receipt or different documentation.

“It would make it extra dangerous for the thieves to steal them,” stated Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., who’s sponsoring the invoice. “The sellers would have to present extra identification, after which on the similar time, the salvage seller wouldn’t need to get in bother so he’d be much less probably to permit them to promote to him.”

Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, who has seen the variety of thefts in his rural space develop from seven to 9 yearly to 28 this yr, stated converters could be stolen in minutes. Thieves want solely crawl below a automobile and use a battery-operated reciprocating noticed to minimize by way of the metallic and take away the half, he stated.

In Henrico County, the place about 540 catalytic converters have been reported stolen this yr, police have produced public service bulletins to increase consciousness.

David Overby, proprietor of Auto Repairs Plus, stated he spent greater than $5,000 on lighting and a safety system with cameras after thieves repeatedly stole catalytic converters off his prospects’ vehicles in his car parking zone. Overby stated police arrested two individuals caught on his cameras stealing converters, however he stated below the present legislation, they have been solely charged with a misdemeanor.

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“These individuals have gotten to be held accountable indirectly, not given a slap on their wrist,” Overby stated.

At Chesterfield Auto Parts, the place prospects can pull elements from junked vehicles, proprietor Troy Webber stated his staff take away catalytic converters earlier than the autos are made out there to the general public, then lock the gadgets in metal containers earlier than promoting them to auto recyclers. That doesn’t cease thieves from making an attempt to break in, he stated.

“People minimize by way of our fence consistently to strive to steal the catalytic converters,” he stated.

Henrico police Chief Eric English stated catalytic converters have been minimize from autos parked in householders’ driveways. Police have suggested individuals about theft prevention measures, together with protecting shields and covers for the converters. They’ve additionally provided to stencil a mark on catalytic converters to permit scrap yard sellers and recyclers to extra simply id a stolen converter.

“It’s undoubtedly one thing we’ve got to come up with as a result of it is inflicting a whole lot of households and lots of people some heartburn,” English stated. “It’s not one thing individuals deserve to have occur to them.”

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