Police struggle to deter rising catalytic converter thefts

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States across the country are taking steps to prevent theft of catalytic converters

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RICHMOND, Va. — In the small town of Lawrenceville, Virginia, a van owned by Poplar Mount Baptist Church was put out of commission for weeks after thieves disconnected the catalytic converter from its exhaust system.

Several months later, across town, a catalytic converter from a van owned by First Baptist Church exploded.

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Following similar crimes, a total of 15 church vans and 13 other vehicles were targeted in the city, part of a nationwide surge in thefts of catalytic converters.

Theft of exhaust emissions control devices has skyrocketed over the past two years as the prices of the precious metals in them skyrocketed. Thieves can expect to get anywhere from $50 to $300 if they sell converters to scrap yards, which sell them to recycling facilities to retrieve precious metals, including platinum, palladium, and rhodium.

For victims, the cost of replacing a stolen catalytic converter can easily exceed $1,000 and leave their vehicle unattended for days or weeks as the part is ordered and installed. This can make owners feel insecure.

John Robinson, a member of the Poplar Mount Baptist Church, said, “Just to realize that church property was attacked by thieves was disheartening.”

Robinson said the cost to replace a stolen converter is about $1,000. The theft was covered by insurance, but the church had to pay its $250 deductible and was unable to use the van for six weeks as it waited for a new part in a mechanic’s yard.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said the number of catalytic converter thefts reported in claims by insurance companies increased from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020. NICB President David Glave said there has been a significant increase in thefts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. ,

“This is an opportunistic crime,” Glave said in a statement. “As the value of the precious metals contained within catalytic converters continues to rise, so has the number of thefts of these devices. In times of crisis, there is a clear correlation between limited resources and the disruption of the supply chain that motivates investors. It does. These precious metals.”

The rise in theft has prompted states across the country to impose harsher penalties and new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy converters. Ten states enacted new legislation in 2021, including laws in Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas, that include proof of ownership, vehicle identification number, seller’s home address and driver’s license number used to maintain records of purchases. Requires buyers of Scrap Metal Gone Converters. Insurance Crime Bureau.

In North Carolina, a law that took effect December 1, makes catalytic converter theft a Class I offense and requires businesses that obtain documentation and maintain detailed records on the people who sold the devices to them. buy catalytic converters.

A bill modeled after the North Carolina law will be introduced in Virginia when the legislature is reconstituted in January. This measure would make the theft of a catalytic converter a felony and assume that someone removed from the vehicle illegally obtained it, unless the person is an authorized scrap seller or has a sale, receipt or other Do not have a document bill.

“It would be more risky for thieves to steal them,” said Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., who sponsored the bill. “Sellers have to show more recognition, and then at the same time, the salvage dealer won’t want to get in trouble, so he or she will be less likely to allow them to sell.”

Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, who has seen the number of thefts in his rural area jump from seven to nine a year to 28 this year, said converters can be stolen within minutes. He said thieves only needed to crawl under a vehicle and use a battery-operated reciprocating saw to cut the metal and remove that part.

In Henrico County, where about 540 catalytic converters have been reported stolen this year, police have made public service announcements to raise awareness.

David Overby, owner of Auto Repair Plus, said he spent more than $5,000 on a security system with lighting and cameras after thieves repeatedly stole catalytic converters from his customers’ cars in their parking lots. Overby said police arrested two men while stealing converters in their cameras, but added that under current law, they were charged with only one misdemeanor.

“These people should be held accountable in some way, not slapped on their wrists,” Overby said.

At Chesterfield Auto Parts, where customers can pull parts from junk cars, owner Troy Weber said his workers remove catalytic converters before making the vehicles available to the public, then reassemble the equipment in steel before selling them to auto recyclers. Locked in containers. He added that this does not deter thieves from trying to break in.

“People constantly cut our fences to try to steal catalytic converters,” he said.

Henrico Police Chief Eric English said catalytic converters had been disconnected from vehicles parked in the homeowners’ driveways. The police have advised people about theft prevention measures including protective cover and cover for converters. They have offered a stencil on catalytic converters to allow scrap yard dealers and recyclers to more easily identify a stolen converter.

“It’s definitely something that we have to hold onto because it’s angering a lot of families and a lot of people,” English said. “It’s not something people deserve to be with them.”

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