CRIME: Another catalytic-converter theft interrupted. Here’s what’s up with crackdown legislation

That catalytic converter was “hanging by a thread” when Edgar photographed it near his house at 42nd and Brandon. He’s the guy who, as reported here in October, literally kicked a would-be catalytic-converter thief out from under his own car. Early today, 2:30 am-ish, Edgar says, his wife scared off the people trying to make off with the one in the photo. When he emailed us this afternoon, he and his neighbors hadn’t yet figured out whose car that is. But regarding catalytic-converter theft in general, Edgar says, “This has got to stop.”

So here’s what’s being done at the state level: We noted earlier this month that four bills addressing catalytic-converter theft have been introduced in the State Legislature session that began earlier this month. The city of Seattle is advocating for HB 1815, which has more than two dozen co-sponsors, including West Seattle’s 34th District State House Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. From the bill text (which you can read in its entirety here):

The legislature finds that rates of catalytic converter theft have rapidly increased statewide and nationwide, due in part to existing challenges with accurately identifying stolen catalytic converters. The legislature further finds that victims of catalytic converter theft often incur costs that far exceed the monetary value of the catalytic converters themselves. The legislature further finds that catalytic converter theft is a multifaceted issue that requires collaborative effort between law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, scrap metal dealers, and other involved parties to identify comprehensive solutions.

Therefore, the legislature intends to establish a pilot project to mark catalytic converters with unique, permanent identifiers, thereby enabling law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, and scrap metal dealers to more effectively track the ownership of catalytic converters and identify stolen property. The legislature further intends to gather and utilize data from the pilot project to inform additional efforts to address catalytic converter theft in Washington state. The legislature further intends to establish a task force with the goal of developing effective tools and methods for deterring catalytic converter theft, identifying and recovering stolen catalytic converters, and lowering costs to victims of catalytic converter theft.

The pilot project would be overseen by the State Patrol and would focus on “vehicles that are most frequently targeted for catalytic converter theft …” The WSP would have to provide a report on the pilot project by October of next year. Meantime, the task force would be established with members including legislators, law enforcers, judges, reps from the scrap-metal and recycling industries, plus “two members representing individuals with lived experience being charged with, or convicted of, organized theft.”

Last week, West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold testified in support of HB 1815 at a legislative hearing. She wrote about it in her weekly online/email update and mentioned it during yesterday’s council-briefing meeting. Herbold also is advocating for a repeal of the state law that says only the state can regulate scrap-metal processors, recyclers, and suppliers.

HB 1815 has been referred to the state House Public Safety Committee, which is expected to review it in executive session this Thursday. As for the other three bills, SB 5495 had a hearing today; the other two – HB 1873 and HB 1994 – have been referred to committees and are awaiting action.

30 Replies to "CRIME: Another catalytic-converter theft interrupted. Here's what's up with crackdown legislation"

  • Azimuth January 26, 2022 (8:28 am)

    I’m sure every bit helps. If properly installed shields are an effective deterrent then the state should encourage that too. Nationally, car companies should redesign where these things are installed, though I’m not sure how that would work. It’s amazing how much headspace this issue collectively takes up and we have to contort ourselves to combat this ridiculous problem. 

  • Preston January 26, 2022 (9:50 am)

    Listen, I’m all in support of the legislation, but c’mon, a task force? I’m pretty sure the City of Seattle (or King County, or State law enforcement) could place a temporary ban on scrap metal companies purchasing any catalytic converter that’s not attached to a car. Where do they think they’re coming from, the catalytic converter forest? Point of fact: If a person is selling a catalytic converter to a scrap metal yard, that thing is stolen, period. Which means that scrap metal yards are in the business of trafficking in stolen goods. Make purchasing catalytic converters illegal and the market will evaporate. This is a bona fide crisis. 

    • flimflam January 26, 2022 (12:19 pm)

      Agreed. Of course someone will probably come along and say “you don’t know they’re stolen, someone could have given that guy a converter…!”

    • cheeseWS777 January 26, 2022 (1:35 pm)

      My neon has a blown engine, i was thinking about taking my cat converter in. If you see me walking into the metal yard are you going to call me a theif?

      • Jimmy Nimbles January 26, 2022 (6:23 pm)

        At a bare minimum, in that scenario a soft gate would be to show you have A title to A car to prove its plausible it came off your car. The thieves won’t be able to produce one. And if you lost your title, you are incentivized by the scrap metal yield to go wait in line for 30min. 

        • cheeseWS777 January 27, 2022 (1:27 am)

          I agree with you dude, except i beleive that is allready the requirement… the issue is that most (not all) arent being bothered to follow the protocol, probly because they look the other way on purpose due to dollar signs

    • Hlc January 27, 2022 (8:37 am)

      I think you missed seeing that as it currently stands, only the state is allowed to regular scrap metal processors (mentioned at the end of the article), so the city or county isn’t allowed to enact a temporary ban, even if they wanted to. That said, yeah a task force seems pretty lack luster given the impact these thefts are having. 

  • Jim January 26, 2022 (10:13 am)

    As  stop gap measure we might start engraving our lic number and maybe name etc. on the converter.  Vibratory engravers like from Amazon, eBay,  or Good Will.  Not a total answer but better than nothing.I’ve read several stories about the police not being able to id converters found in the possition of someone – so no charges were filed.

  • Tim P January 26, 2022 (10:49 am)

    HB 1815 is a complete waste of time and resources.

    • “Pilot project to mark catalytic converters with unique, permanent identifiers”
    • “Intends to establish a task force with the goal of developing effective tools and methods for deterring catalytic converter theft, identifying and recovering stolen catalytic converters, and lowering costs to victims of catalytic converter theft.”

    Nothing about prosecution and/or enforcement… And if a thief is cutting off a catalytic convertor with an angle grinder, they can easier grind off a VIN stamp.

  • Sasquatch January 26, 2022 (11:04 am)

    Please be very careful when confronting thieves. Neighbors have been shot at for less.

  • Lagartija Nick January 26, 2022 (11:19 am)

    The task force will include “reps from the scrap metal and recycling industries.” Great, so the industries profiting off the stolen cats get to help write the laws to combat this illegal trade (while presumably shielding themselves from prosecution). Ain’t America grand.

  • Buck January 26, 2022 (11:27 am)

    Yes! I agree 100% Preston.  If a person is selling a catalytic converter to a scrap metal yard, that thing is stolen, period. Which means that scrap metal yards are in the business of trafficking in stolen goods.  Seems like an easy fix to me, come on politicians, help us!

  • momosmom January 26, 2022 (11:46 am)

    Not all cats that are sold to scrapyards are stolen.  My husband is into a certain make and model of a pickup truck and he purchased a totaled one just to sell the parts because they are in to high demand hard to find parts and he took the cats to a “legit” scrapyard  and had title of truck in hand otherwise that yard would not buy them. These scrapyards that are buying these stolen ones obviously are not asking to see the title of ownership and they should be prosecuted/fined as much as the thieves.

  • Marty2 January 26, 2022 (12:37 pm)

    I saw an article a while ago where catalytic converters that were stolen in Washington were loaded into containers and then sold in another state where scrap dealers are not subject to our laws.  We need multi-state cooperation and a nationwide solution to this problem.

  • Saul Notgoodman January 26, 2022 (2:01 pm)

    Someone with a capacity for rational and logical thought might come with a three-prong approach to this problem:

    1. Drastically escalate prison sentencing for offenders and especially for dealers/fencers
    2. Change laws to allow for lethal response in defending property
    3. Drastically escalate prison sentencing for illegal firearms owners

    Of course, this is Seattle, so none of this will ever be even considered and instead we’ll do what Seattle does best: form a committee to consider a task force that will examine options of organizing panels whose job will be studying effects of a potential response with respect to the affected economically disadvantaged populations.

    • Lagartija Nick January 26, 2022 (2:37 pm)

      Wanting to murder people for stealing your stuff is neither rational nor logical.

    • Rhonda January 26, 2022 (4:11 pm)


    • Jort January 26, 2022 (4:24 pm)

      Oh cool, you think that the attempted theft of an automobile part justifies an extrajudicial summary execution by the car owner. Yeah, totally normal and very cool, super reasonable and also super cool.

    • Amy January 26, 2022 (5:44 pm)

      This almost sounds as promising as the war on drugs….

    • RickB January 26, 2022 (6:05 pm)

      Lethal force to defend property? How about no.

      • Auntie January 26, 2022 (6:36 pm)

        Perhaps you did not see the report a couple of days ago where the cat thief threatened the homeowner with a gun. So, I guess we should just go cower in our homes and hope that the thieves just stay out there stealing things we have worked hard to get and they don’t decide to try taking what’s inside, too. I’m so tired of the defense of criminals. If someone points a gun at me, I might be inclined to point one back – and use it. And then I’ll go to jail while the thief frolics freely, victimizing my neighbors. What a world.

      • Saul Notgoodman January 26, 2022 (7:47 pm)

        That’s it? That’s your argument? I was expecting at least crocodile tears for the poor people who have no choice but steal to feed their families, even though last fall I was paying manual laborers $50/hr for menial jobs and still couldn’t make people show up.

        As for Amy above, I’m not sure if you realize, but catalytic converters are not addictive, nor is their theft a victimless crime like smoking weed used to be. If you have to use disingenuous red herrings to make a point, you don’t have much of a point.

      • Jort January 26, 2022 (9:16 pm)

        Yes! Extrajudicial summary death sentences by private citizens for stealing car parts! Come on, it makes total sense, right? Should not people literally be killed because they’re stealing a car part? So normal to think this way, it’s such a normal thought pattern. Super cool and also normal.

        • Saul Notgoodman January 27, 2022 (9:16 am)

          Next time anyone asks why crime is getting worse and nothing seems to be done about it, simply show them these apologists’ hypocritical rationalizations. It’s crocodile tears about the poor criminals all the way down. Why wouldn’t crime get worse? You don’t feel like working 9-5 like normal people and can make more money stealing, knowing the justice system will come down with full force against anyone who’d try to harm you in any way to protect your criminal enterprise? You’d be stupid not to steal.

          And fyi, I have despised guns and the American gun obsession my whole life, but this Seattle trend will force me, a lifelong liberal, to go out and buy one. Congratulations, crime apologists, you’ve finally done it.

          • Fern January 27, 2022 (9:35 pm)

            Make sure you learn gun safety – even so, you’re statistically more likely to harm yourself or a loved one by accident with a gun than to actually scare off a thief at the precise moment. 

          • Jort January 27, 2022 (9:55 pm)

            You can be against crime but also not think that the solution is armed citizens blasting their firearms to summarily execute somebody they think is trying to steal their car parts. Did you know there’s room between those positions? You should examine that space and see what kinds of things you can find. I am sorry that the “liberals” hurt your feelings so much that you feel the need to go buy a firearm to make yourself feel better. You know, for your hurt feelings. From the liberals.

  • Jort January 26, 2022 (3:42 pm)

    Another idea that has the benefit of being 100 percent effective and is extremely simple to enact is that you could just not allow catalytic converters, at all, to be sold as scrap, period. This is not complicated nor controversial. Uranium is valuable, but you can’t take it down to Joe-bee’s Jolly Theft Ring Scrap Metal Emporium (“We buy ANYTHING!”) and sell it. If, for whatever extremely weird reason you have an extra catalytic converter you need to get rid of, you can take it to a state facility and pay the state to get rid of it. This is not complicated. Eliminate the market, we do it all the time for items. Use the state to force these items to be worthless. As for legitimate disposal, that can come from a registered scrapyard that takes the entire car, including title or from registered car repair shops that legitimately take the parts off and can account for inventory in and out. But, yeah, there is no reason the state needs to allow Billy-Bo-Bobby-Buddy’s Scrappy Scrap Thieving Emporium to exchange cash for any catalytic converters, period. But, because we are in America and we worship the insatiable god of individualism at every opportunity, I can see how lawmakers would want to foist the responsibility for protection of stolen items onto individuals instead of the state. That’s because most lawmakers are, in fact, cowards. If I have to show an ID to buy Sudafed, we can stop this — if lawmakers are courageous enough to do so. Quit acting like the state is powerless to act. It can be quite powerful. Sorry if that hurts Schnitzer Steel’s feelings, gosh so sad.

    • GoodSpaceGal January 26, 2022 (9:56 pm)

      You could be walking down the sidewalk and stumble upon catalytic converter thieves who may mistake you for the vehicle’s owner. They may decide to beat you senseless (or worse) in the process of their being surprised. Ergo; this crime affects everyone and even non-car owners can be victimized.

      • Kathy January 26, 2022 (11:44 pm)

        I get it.  People who use vehicles to get around that require a catalytic converter to offset some of the harm of burning fossil fuels could be endangering us all by luring criminals (while also endangering the planet). I have bit my tongue for a long time when reading about so many catalytic converter thefts. I know if I were a good person I should express sympathy for the victims, but I just can’t. We should not be burning fossil fuels, period.

    • mary January 27, 2022 (6:54 am)

      I agree with Jort,  make it not allowable to sell catalytic’s converters at all… but then these people would just move on to steal something else, there is always something to steal.  The reason these people steal it is for drug money,  food(???), rent money (???) and the biggest reason is, it’s easy TAX FREE DOLLARS unlike all of us hardworking people who go to work 5 days a week/40 plus hours a week everyday of our lives. 

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