Police struggle to deter rising catalytic converter thefts

Jan 2, 2022, 7:03 AM | Updated: 7:19 am

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — In the tiny town of Lawrenceville, Virginia, a van owned by Poplar Mount Baptist Church was knocked out of commission for weeks after thieves cut the catalytic converter out of its exhaust system.

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

Similar crimes followed, targeting a total of 15 church vans and 13 other vehicles in town, part of a nationwide surge in thefts of catalytic converters.

Thefts of the exhaust emission control devices have jumped over the past two years as prices for the precious metals they contain have skyrocketed. Thieves can expect to get anywhere from $50 to $300 if they sell the converters to scrap yards, which then sell them to recycling facilities to reclaim the precious metals inside, including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

For victims, the costs of replacing a stolen catalytic converter can easily top $1,000 and make their vehicle undrivable for days or weeks as the part is ordered and installed. It can also leave owners feeling vulnerable.

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

Robinson said replacing the stolen converter cost 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 sat in a mechanic’s yard waiting for a new part.

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

“It’s an opportunistic crime,” Glawe said in a statement. “As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”

The increase in thefts has prompted states across the country to toughen penalties and impose new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy the converters. Ten states enacted new legislation in 2021, including laws in Arkansas, South Carolina and Texas that require scrap metal buyers of used converters to maintain records of purchases, including proof of ownership, vehicle identification numbers, the seller’s home address and driver’s license numbers, according to the insurance crime bureau.

In North Carolina, a law that went into effect Dec. 1 makes catalytic converter thefts a Class I felony and requires businesses that buy used catalytic converters to get documentation and maintain detailed records on people who sell the devices to them.

A bill modeled after the North Carolina law will be introduced in Virginia when the legislature reconvenes in January. The measure would make the theft of a catalytic converter a felony and presume that anyone in possession of one that’s been removed from a vehicle has obtained it illegally unless the person is an authorized scrap seller or has a bill of sale, receipt or other documentation.

“It would make it more risky for the thieves to steal them,” said Sen. Frank Ruff Jr., who is sponsoring the bill. “The sellers would have to show more identification, and then at the same time, the salvage dealer would not want to get in trouble so he’d be less likely to allow them to sell to him.”

Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts, who has seen the number of thefts in his rural area grow from seven to nine annually to 28 this year, said converters can be stolen in minutes. Thieves need only crawl under a vehicle and use a battery-operated reciprocating saw to cut through the metal and remove the part, he said.

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

David Overby, owner of Auto Repairs Plus, said he spent more than $5,000 on lighting and a security system with cameras after thieves repeatedly stole catalytic converters off his customers’ cars in his parking lot. Overby said police arrested two people caught on his cameras stealing converters, but he said under the current law, they were only charged with a misdemeanor.

“These people have got to be held accountable in some way, not given a slap on their wrist,” Overby said.

At Chesterfield Auto Parts, where customers can pull parts from junked cars, owner Troy Webber said his workers remove catalytic converters before the vehicles are made available to the public, then lock the devices in steel containers before selling them to auto recyclers. That doesn’t stop thieves from trying to break in, he said.

“People cut through our fence constantly to try to steal the catalytic converters,” he said.

Henrico police Chief Eric English said catalytic converters have been cut from vehicles parked in homeowners’ driveways. Police have advised people about theft prevention measures, including protective shields and covers for the converters. They’ve also offered to stencil a mark on catalytic converters to allow scrap yard dealers and recyclers to more easily identity a stolen converter.

“It’s definitely something we have to get a hold of because it’s causing a lot of families and a lot of people some heartburn,” English said. “It’s not something people deserve to have happen to them.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Climate bill: Could coal communities shift to nuclear?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A major economic bill headed to the president has “game-changing” incentives for the nuclear energy industry, experts say, and those tax credits are even more substantial if a facility is sited in a community where a coal plant is closing. The transformative bill provides the most spending to fight climate change […]
6 hours ago
Aslef, Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen members are pictured on a picket line...
Associated Press

Driver walkout halts trains as UK summer strike wave spreads

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of U.K. train drivers walked off the job Saturday in a strike over jobs, pay and conditions, scuppering services across much of the country. The action was the latest in a spreading series of strikes by British workers seeking substantial raises to offset soaring prices for food and fuel. The 24-hour […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Dutch arrest man linked to currency mixer Tornado Cash

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch financial prosecutors say they detained a man suspected of involvement in “concealing criminal financial flows and facilitating money laundering” through the virtual currency mixer Tornado Cash. The 29-year-old man was arrested Aug. 10 in Amsterdam, the financial prosecution service FIOD said in a statement Friday. The suspect’s identity was […]
6 hours ago
Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko speaks to The Associated Press reporters during an intervi...
Associated Press

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago. In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked […]
6 hours ago
ADDS NAME OF DETAINED PERSON Law enforcement officers detain Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, N.J., out...
Associated Press

Author Salman Rushdie on ventilator after New York stabbing

CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday by a man who rushed the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York. A bloodied Rushdie, 75, was flown to […]
6 hours ago
A view of the peninsula of Sirmione, on Garda lake, Italy, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Lake Garda water ...
Associated Press

Italy’s Lake Garda shrinks to near-historic low amid drought

SIRMIONE Italy (AP) — Italy’s worst drought in decades has reduced Lake Garda, the country’s largest lake, to near its lowest level ever recorded, exposing swaths of previously underwater rocks and warming the water to temperatures that approach the average in the Caribbean Sea. Tourists flocking to the popular northern lake Friday for the start […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Police struggle to deter rising catalytic converter thefts