Competing proposals for catalytic converter theft crackdown up for Thursday vote
There are competing state legislative proposals from Democrats and Republicans to crack down on thieves who target catalytic converters after a huge spike in theft cases during the pandemic.
A proposal from Democrats focuses on creating a task force to look at the current problem and existing regulation in Washington. The bill also suggests having catalytic converters marked for tracking to help track down and deter thieves.
But Gary Ernsdorff with the King County Prosecutor’s Office says that’s a pretty big ask, to have car owners bring in their vehicles to get outfitted with that tracking mechanism.
He testified broadly about the issue at a hearing for a Republican bill from Senator Jeff Wilson (R-Longview) which, among other things, adds precious metals to a list of transactions that scrap metal businesses have to record. It limits those transactions to only commercial businesses or the vehicle owner and makes it a gross misdemeanor for scrap metal businesses to knowingly buy stolen metals.
Wilson’s primary concern is for the victims.
“It leaves a trail of victims all throughout our state, and it costs thousands of dollars for people to have to replace their stolen catalytic converters, and this is a devastating blow to victims, especially during times of a pandemic economy,” Wilson said in the Tuesday committee hearing.
As for Ernsdorff, he says the bottom line is that this crime is way too easy.
“I’ve seen $500 transactions for one catalytic converter: It’s a target rich environment,” Ernsdorff said. “The vehicles are all around us. There’s no entry required, so car alarms are ineffective. These are easy pickings. The only necessary tool is a common Sawzall, and we’re seeing those shoplifted every day from our big box stores.”
Ernsdorff wants to see better regulation.
“Dry up the demand for stolen catalytic converters, and you dry up [thefts] overnight,” Ernsdorff added.
Both bills are up for committee votes Thursday.
KIRO Newsradio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.