(The Center Square) – Nationwide in 2019 an average of 282 catalytic converters were reported stolen from vehicles each month, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
In pandemic-skewered 2020, however, more than 1,200 catalytic converters were reported stolen across the nation each month with 2,350 reported stolen in December alone.
And those numbers are increasing in 2021 as precious metals in catalytic converters – platinum (worth about $1,100 per ounce), palladium ($2,400 per ounce), and rhodium ($24,000 per ounce) – skyrocket, NICB maintains.
St. Louis, in particular, has been a hotbed of catalytic converter thefts, jumping more than eightfold to 240 in 2020 from 50 in 2019.
But when the Pulaski County Health Center Board on Dec. 15 reported $5,000 catalytic converters had been stolen from three of its vehicles, including a mobile clinic and RV critical to upcoming vaccine distribution plans, it alerted state lawmakers’ to a scourge “worse than it was when we had the copper theft epidemic."
Missouri Rep. Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, is among those lawmakers in 20 states to propose 2021 bills addressing catalytic converter thefts, according to Congressional Quarterly/State Track.
Mayhew’s House Bill 1153 would classify unlawfully acquiring a catalytic converter as a theft and mandate scrap metal dealers require proof sellers of catalytic converters are a “bona fide automobile repair shop” or sign an affidavit that the converter was lawfully acquired to be maintained for four years by the state Department of Public Safety.
Under HB 1153, transactions involving catalytic converters must occur at the primary place of business of the scrap metal dealer, who must maintain the catalytic converter for five days “before modifying it in any way.”
Anyone unlawfully selling a catalytic converter will be charged with a class A misdemeanor under Mayhew’s proposal. The charge is elevated to a class E felony if it’s the offenders’ second conviction within 10 years or if the offender was in unlawful possession of two or more catalytic converters.
For scrap metal dealers who “unlawfully purchase” catalytic converters, HB 1153 proposes a class B misdemeanor charge and business license revocation.
HB 1153 passed through the House Transportation Committee on March 31 after a March 24 hearing and awaits a third reading on the chamber floor.
The bill is supported by, among others, the Missouri Insurance Coalition and Missouri SITE Improvement Association, which represents 120 state construction contractors.
“The theft of catalytic converters from construction vehicles has become a serious and repetitive issue that requires a remedy of significant consequence,” SITE’s Chris Davis said during the March 24 hearing.
The Missouri Auto & Truck Recyclers Association, Advantage Metals Recycling and Missouri chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries were also represented at the March 24 hearing.
All listed attendance “for information purposes” without stating a position although Mayhew told the Missouri Times he’s received pushback from metal dealers who’ve suggested tweaks he is prepared to discuss.
“I’m willing to change some of the aspects to make it a little less difficult for salvage yards, but it’s a conversation we’re going to need to have,” he said. “Somebody’s buying them, and it’s the folks who move these through the system.”
In other words, catalytic converter thefts are a symptom of a larger problem within the difficult-to-regulate scrap metals industry, where enforcement is undermined by an array of different federal and state laws.
In 2013, Missouri’s SB 157 required scrap metal dealers to document a seller’s government-issued photo identification, also stipulating scrap metal dealers document a seller’s vehicle license plate; gender; birth date; and a photograph of the seller if the information is different than that on the seller’s government-issued identification.