Police fight increase in theft of catalytic converters | North Carolina News


By DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – In the small town of Lawrenceville, Va., A pickup truck owned by Poplar Mount Baptist Church was taken out of service for weeks after thieves cut off the catalytic converter on its exhaust system.

Several months later, across town, a catalytic converter was torn from a pickup truck belonging to First Baptist Church.

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

The theft of exhaust emission control devices has surged over the past two years as the prices of the precious metals they contain have soared. Thieves can expect to earn between $ 50 and $ 300 if they sell the converters to scrap yards, which then sell them to recycling facilities to recover the precious metals they contain, including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

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

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

Robinson said replacing the stolen converter costs around $ 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 insurance company claims rose from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020. NICB Chairman David Glawe said he there had been a significant increase in thefts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. .

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

The increase in thefts has prompted states across the country to toughen penalties and place new requirements on scrap dealers who buy the converters. D at the insurance crime bureau.

In North Carolina, a law that came into effect on December 1 makes catalytic converter theft a Class I felony and requires businesses that purchase used catalytic converters to obtain documents and keep detailed records of who sell them the devices.

A bill modeled on the North Carolina law will be introduced in Virginia when the legislature meets again in January. The measure would make the theft of a catalytic converter a crime and presume that anyone in possession of a converter that has been removed from a vehicle obtained it illegally, unless the person is an authorized scrap dealer or have a bill of sale, receipt or other document.

“It would make it riskier for thieves to steal them,” said Senator Frank Ruff Jr., who sponsors the bill. “The sellers would have to show more identification, and at the same time, the collector wouldn’t want to get in trouble so he would 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 drop from seven to nine a year to 28 this year, said the converters can be stolen within minutes. Thieves only need to crawl under a vehicle and use a battery-powered reciprocating saw to cut through the metal and remove the part, he said.

In Henrico County, where around 540 catalytic converters have been reported stolen this year, police have released 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 the catalytic converters from his cars. customers in his parking lot. Overby said police arrested two people caught on his cameras stealing converters, but said under current law they were only charged with one misdemeanor.

“These people need to be held accountable in some way or another, without getting slapped in the face,” Overby said.

At Chesterfield Auto Parts, where customers can pick up scrap car parts, owner Troy Webber said his employees remove catalytic converters before vehicles are released to the public and then lock devices into containers. steel before selling them to auto recyclers. That doesn’t stop thieves from trying to break in, he said.

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

Henry Police Chief Eric English said catalytic converters were cut from vehicles parked in owners’ driveways. Police informed people of theft prevention measures, including protective screens and convertor covers. They also proposed to put a mark on catalytic converters to make it easier for scrap dealers and recyclers to identify a stolen converter.

“It’s definitely something we need to get on top of because it causes heartburn in a lot of families and people,” English said. “It’s not something that people deserve to happen to them.”

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