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Local lawmakers and law enforcement officials say a bill to stifle the market for stolen catalytic converters is likely the best way to curb these thefts, which have become increasingly brazen of late.
Last month, the state General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee passed a bipartisan bill that, if passed into law and signed into law, would still allow scrap yards and recycling businesses to buy catalytic converters, but only if certain strict caveats are followed.
Senate Bill 256, “An Act Respecting the Purchase or Receipt of Catalytic Converters by Motor Vehicle Recyclers, Scrap Metals and Junk Dealers” would in most cases prevent a company from purchasing the devices at unless they are physically attached to a vehicle. A recycler cannot resell a converter until it has the original vehicle identification number it was connected to engraved on it.
Any outfit that buys an independent converter must register a wealth of vendor details, including the vendor’s name, address, and driver’s license number; the license plate of the vehicle used to transport the converter for sale; and a photo or video of the seller.
Additionally, only one converter per day can be accepted by a dealer and payments would consist of a check mailed to the seller’s address. Sales information should be reported weekly to state police.
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State Senator Cathy Osten, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in various illegal activities in recent years, including an increase in catalytic converter thefts.
“Unless you stay out and watch your car 24 hours a day, the answer to catalytic converter theft is to kill the market for their illegal sale,” she said in a press release. “Criminals aren’t going to steal something they can’t sell, and this bill makes it nearly impossible to sell a stolen catalytic converter. Or, you can steal and sell a few, but the police will easily identify and catch you. I think it’s going to be a game-changer for the public.”
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On April 3, days after the committee sent the bill to the state Senate for consideration, state police were dispatched to the parking lot of a supermarket in Lisbon’s shopping center where a catalytic converter was stolen in the middle of the afternoon.
“These thefts have occurred throughout the region and can occur in broad daylight in busy parking lots,” state police officials said in a news release.
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Last month, more than a dozen catalytic converters were cut on vehicles parked in the parking lot of the Putnam Ford dealership. Putnam Police Chief Chris Ferace, whose department’s Special Services District coverage area does not include the Park Road dealership, said officers have been dispatched sporadically over the past two years for robberies of converters.
He said the anti-theft bill’s focus on junkyards and junkyards made sense.
“When someone comes in with a dozen or more catalytic converters for sale, you have to believe they were obtained illegally,” Ferace said.
Ferace likened device thieves to a NASCAR pit crew who, after locating an attractive vehicle — ideally with high ground clearance — quickly gets to work.
“Then they dig in with a portable saw, cut it, and move on,” he said.
Ferace said there are ways to mitigate these thefts and they all require vigilance.
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“When you park, do it where there is activity and be prepared to be a good witness,” he said. “It may not be your target vehicle, but the one three or 10 tiles down. If anything looks or feels out of place, contact law enforcement.
Converters, which reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicle exhausts, contain several precious metals – platinum, palladium, rhodium – whose values have exploded in recent years. The committee noted that rhodium alone, which sold for $1,850 an ounce in 2018, now sells for $20,250 an ounce.
Plainfield Deputy Police Chief Will Wolfburg said the department over the past two years has responded to several thefts of commercial and residential catalytic converters, almost all overnight.
“It only takes a few minutes to carry out these robberies by someone who can carry a portable saw under a jacket or in a backpack, but it represents a big financial loss for the victim,” he said. “And it is very difficult to find the stolen parts because there is no identification number on them.
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The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that catalytic converter thefts jumped 293% nationwide between the middle of 2020 and the same period in 2021. Resale prices for converters are pegged at around $150, though that may costing a vehicle owner several thousand dollars to replace a stolen device, the agency says.
Arthur Faunce Jr., operator of Plainfield Scrap Metal, Inc., said his Margaret Lane company almost never buys catalytic converters that go on sale.
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“I will if it’s someone I know personally, but that’s it,” he said. “That’s because you really don’t know if they were obtained illegally.”
Faunce said the resale price of a converter can vary wildly between makes and models. He said some might only fetch a few dollars, while a Volkswagen version “the size of a loaf of bread” can cost upwards of $1,200.
Wolfburg, while supporting the spirit of the anti-theft bill, said he had reservations about its effectiveness.
“One problem is that thieves don’t necessarily take the converters to local dealers to sell and instead use back channels, sometimes out of state,” he said. “(The bill) is a huge improvement, but it’s like fishing against the tide.”
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Wolfburg said investigations into converter thefts rely heavily on surveillance video and witness statements. He said that in previous cases, suspects identified on camera were later found with the type of burglary tools frequently used to cut out converters.
Like Ferace, Wolfburg said the best protection against such thefts is awareness.
“You have to be proactive,” he said. “If you have a car and a truck, park the truck in the garage.”
John Penney can be reached at email@example.com or (860) 857-6965
This article originally appeared in The Bulletin: Eastern CT Police on board with anti-theft catalytic converter bill
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