American Opinion: Catalytic converter thefts are expensive — and can be deadly
Summary: Police urge vehicle owners to install a catalytic converter anti-theft device, etch a partial vehicle identification number on their converter and park their vehicles in well-lit, secured areas to minimize this crime of opportunity. Law enforcement, auto parts makers, lawmakers, insurance companies, recyclers and others have to do more to disrupt this criminal enterprise.
If you think that catalytic converter theft is a faceless property crime, you’re wrong. Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Almendarez last week in Texas lost his life over a catalytic converter.
Almendarez was fatally shot when he exchanged gunfire with several men he spotted attempting to steal a catalytic converter from his vehicle while he and his wife were at a grocery store.
Just weeks before Almendarez’s slaying, three men accused of stealing catalytic converters led Harris County sheriff deputies on a high-speed chase. And in yet another incident in March, two Texas men were arrested in connection with a rash of catalytic converter thefts at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
These incidents are just the tip of an increasingly brazen national crime spree that tells you just how out of control and dangerous catalytic converter thefts have become. Legislative action so far has not been enough.
Last year, lawmakers in Texas, one of the top five states for catalytic converter thefts, passed a law to increase criminal penalties for knowingly purchasing stolen catalytic converters and toughened reporting requirements for metal recyclers who buy catalytic converters. But the crime is so flagrant that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last week made catalytic converter theft an interim legislative charge to lawmakers.
Thieves usually target catalytic converters on sport utility and hybrid vehicles with enough ground clearance to allow a person to quickly crawl under the chassis to remove the converter. But any vehicle owner can be victimized, and these thefts are costing us all in higher insurance costs, expensive repairs and frustration.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that roughly 25,000 catalytic converters were stolen across the nation between 2008 through 2016. Since then, catalytic converter thefts nationwide soared to over several thousand a month. So far this year, Dallas police have reported 639 thefts, up from 547 from the same period in 2021.
And there is no end in sight since recycling facilities typically pay $50 to $500 for stolen catalytic converters, which contain rhodium, palladium and platinum used to filter environmentally hazardous exhaust emissions. These precious metals command prices ranging from $1,000 per ounce for platinum to $19,000 per ounce for rhodium.
Scrap recyclers are a key link in this criminal supply chain. It may be time for Washington to step in as it did previously with federal legislation to more easily track stolen vehicle parts through national databases.
Many states have stiffened criminal penalties or enacted laws requiring scrap recyclers to keep detailed records about those selling catalytic converters. However, catalytic converters don’t have identifiable serial numbers that would allow law enforcement to more easily track stolen converters. The real value is in the equally hard to trace precious metals.
Police urge vehicle owners to install a catalytic converter anti-theft device, etch a partial vehicle identification number on their converter and park their vehicles in well-lit, secured areas to minimize this crime of opportunity. Law enforcement, auto parts makers, lawmakers, insurance companies, recyclers and others have to do more to disrupt this criminal enterprise.
editorial is the opinion of the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News.
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