Will New Laws Prevent Catalytic Converter Thefts?
With catalytic converter theft having risen by 300 percent across the United States through the summer of 2021, regions of the country that have seen crime rates dwarfing the already brutal national average have started to introduce laws designed to prevent the issue from getting any worse.
In September, California pitched fresh legislation that would increase penalties for those caught with ill-gotten automotive parts while also creating a regulatory framework to make it easier to track individual catalytic converters whenever they change hands. Now, New York Governor Kathy Hochul is doing the same for the East Coast by promising to crack down on “chop shops.” But one wonders if either scheme will be successful in addressing the growing problem.
We’ve covered California’s strategy before and the plan seems to have inspired New York leadership, as there’s a fair bit of overlap. Originating as a pair of bills – one in the California State Senate and one in the Assembly – the Golden State’s new rules add a $1,000 fine for individuals caught with stolen auto parts ($2,000 for the second offense) and allow the state to temporarily suspend the business from operating as a valid recycler. Additionally, new provisions require the purchaser to have a written agreement signed by the seller, documentation of the amount paid, a record of the number of components that were purchased, and for identification (either unique ID numbers or the original VIN) be etched onto the parts.
New York appears to be doing something similar. Despite Hochul issuing a lot of talk about how police need to focus their attention on vehicle crime, she also signed Senate Bill S9428 and Assembly Bill A1940E – both of which pertain to “the maintenance of records of catalytic converters.”
"Public safety is my top priority, and we're taking an aggressive, targeted approach to deter criminals from stealing catalytic converters," Governor Hochul stated to the press. "Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed across our state and nation, and these comprehensive actions double down on our efforts to keep New Yorkers and their property safe, protecting our communities and cracking down on crime."
The New York Police Department has reported that catalytic converter thefts nearly quadrupled in 2022. There have been 5,548 catalytic converter thefts reported in NYC alone as of August 14th, in comparison to 1,505 thefts during the same period in 2021. Though it needs to be stated that theft of the regulatory device had already seen a dramatic increase against 2020, showcasing just how bad the situation has gotten over the last two years.
The new law amends the existing Vehicle and Traffic Law to add catalytic converters as “a major component vehicle part,” which will require vehicle NY dismantlers to maintain records on them. Those businesses will also be required to report the number of catalytic converters received on a 60-day cycle. The Governor’s Office goes on to explain that failing to maintain or produce those records upon request is a Class A misdemeanor and could include monetary penalties of up to double the amount made in taking in allegedly stolen converter components. Additionally, new vehicle dealers and other qualified dealers will be required to stock catalytic converter etching kits to put a unique serial number on the components so that they can be tracked back if they are stolen. Those kits will be provided by the government at no more than the cost of the kit itself.
Gov. Hochul also announced that $20 million will be made available to help local police departments and sheriffs invest in new technologies that are designed to “solve, reduce, and prevent crime.” These include items like license plate readers, mobile and fixed surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), microphone-based detection devices, various forms of “smart equipment” for patrol vehicles and officers, and more.
Obviously, all that surveillance equipment throws up a big red flag for anybody that’s been harping on government or corporate overreach and the prospect of the citizenry retaining its privacy. But New York State has been leaning into automated traffic enforcement harder than the rest of the U.S. and hasn’t shown any signs of stopping. But that’s another matter and we’re presently more concerned with determining whether or not these new laws are actually going to make a real difference in terms of preventing catalytic converters from being illegally sawed off cars.
Despite offering fairly comprehensive plans, it does seem that both California and New York are creating more paperwork for dealerships and repair shops that weren’t doing anything illegal in the first place. Granted, this will also make more trouble for shops moving stolen auto parts. But inconveniencing everyone simultaneously is a less-than-ideal solution for what’s clearly a crime of opportunity. Catalytic converters have become popular targets for thieves specifically because they’re easy to access and relatively valuable. They don’t even need to be whole items, as they all contain precious metals that can be extracted and sold separately if the offender has the means to do so – undermining the premise that adding a serial number will be wholly successful as a form of prevention.
This may be wishful thinking. But the better solution might be to address the factors that led to increased crime rates, to begin with. People tend to do less thieving when they’re gainfully employed and financially stable. Crime tends to flourish when people do not and the last two years have been absolutely brutal for regular people. That’s not to suggest more enforcement is a mistake. However, it’s only capable of addressing one aspect of the overarching problems and it’s unlikely that New Yorkers are going to be overjoyed when those first aerial drones start patrolling their neighborhood in search of someone dragging around the middle section of an exhaust system.
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