Severe legal consequences are coming for catalytic converter theft

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – An Indiana senator with The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee authored and advocated for more severe consequences for both thieves and buyers of stolen catalytic converters.

This year, Fort Wayne and the whole state of Indiana are experiencing an unprecedented number of catalytic converter thefts.

Without this part on a vehicle, it can cause serious long-term side effects, according to autobody shops. Additionally, it can be incredibly costly for the victim. Even with insurance, it can cost $500 or more out of pocket to replace.

Now, legislation is being pushed to discourage these thefts. Senator Jack Sandlin (R) wrote Senate Bill 167 that, “provides that the theft of a component part of a motor vehicle, including a catalytic converter, is a Level 6 felony.” Prior, catalytic converter theft was just a minor misdemeanor in Indiana. Now, it would be a felony.

Senator Sandlin said that the police came to him in the summer of 2020 with concerns, “the Chief of Detectives of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office had this pretty big case…he was very frustrated because he had these cases come in, but he really didn’t have an adequate consequence for the crime.”

SB 167 has passed in both the Indiana Senate and the House and is now awaiting the stamp of approval from Govorner Holcomb. Senator Sandlin hopes the bill will lead to a drop in catalytic converter theft if signed off. Indiana residents will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

MARCH 4th, 2021

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Autobody shops and police are saying that there’s an unsettling rise in car catalytic converter thefts in Fort Wayne, and residents are dealing with the expensive effects.

Rachel Stephens’ morning started like any other average day. She left her house and hopped into her car, but when she started the engine she immediately knew something was off.

“I just went out to start my car and it just sounded all kinds of wrong, like a race car and I drive a Prius so it’s usually extremely quiet,” Stephens said. She was unable to drive her car to work that day.

Stephens isn’t the only resident being affected by this growing issue. Thieves have been sneaking under people’s cars, sawing the catalytic converters off, and hastily getting away in five minutes or less without anyone noticing, not even Stephens’ neighbors.

The main reason people do not notice the thefts as they occur is that most people who pass by and see someone under a car assume that they are the owner. The loud cutting of the saw used to cut the converters easily blends in with street and construction commotion.

Ken Smith, the owner of Tuffy Tire & Auto Service, said that he has been receiving clients in both his shop locations who need to replace their converters after they were stolen.

“Between my two locations there has been about 10 to 12 within the last 90 days,” said Smith, adding that it is way more than the shops are used to seeing.

Catalytic converters contain precious metals that can be sold for a hefty price. Smith explained that imported cars, like Stephens’ Toyota Prius, are targeted because their converters contain higher amounts of these metals. However, he has seen all sorts of cars come through needing new converters.

While insurance covers most of these cases, victims can still end up paying $500 or more from the deductible. Even though this is a costly fix, Smith warns that not all universal converters fit all cars, “Some shops will use universal caps, I won’t. The reason is a catalytic converter is like a heart…a universal cap can cause richness of the fuel and cause it not to run properly, so that’s why we stress to use a direct fit cap.”

Smith said that residential areas have been impacted, which coincides with Stephens’ Prius getting hit in the dead of night in her own driveway. Her car is still in the repair shop.

Lieutenant Tony Maze, Traffic Coordinator of FWPD, affirmed that they’re dealing with a staggering uptick in converter thefts, “216 incidents were reported in 2020. From the first of the year to March the third, we’ve already had 107 so we’ve already got half as much this year as what we’ve had in all of last year.”

Due to the frequency and spread out locations of the hits, the investigation into these thefts is time-consuming and difficult. However, Lieutenant Maze assured that the Street Crimes Unit is seriously looking into this.

Not all converter robberies are reported to the police, so the number of thefts could actually be higher than reported. Because of this, Lieutenant Maze emphasized the importance of submitting every theft to the police.

Unfortunately, due to the stealth and speed at which thieves hit, there are not many preventative measures other than staying vigilant and keeping a close eye on your car. If you have a garage or parking lot, consider leaving your car there to be better protected.

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