When the FBI busted a nationwide business on Nov. 2, has shown that the thieves are working together, and that law enforcement and government officials across the country must do the same.
In conversations with police departments around the country, I am hearing that catalytic converter thieves are becoming more daring and dangerous. These criminals are driven by the easy availability of a high-value commodity, and precious metals in converters that convert easily, cheaply. With supply limited by war-related sanctions on producers in Russia and ordering by China, and demand driven by their importance in applications such as medical treatments, it is not surprising that these platinum group metals, or PGMs, such as platinum, palladium and rhodium are listed as. heavy metals by the federal government.
There is also a general inconsistency in criminal law. In many places, thieves are charged and back on the street the day after they are arrested. Meanwhile, an employee of a legitimate recycling business who carries a cleared load of converters could end up in jail for a felony. The rules are not only out of proportion, but hard to follow.
Although we are motivated by the concern of car owners and the police who protect them or the needs of national security, it is time for a coordinated international effort dedicated to combating it. That’s why I joined forces with PGM of Texas, the largest transformer manufacturer in North America, to find a solution. As a former police chief, I can understand how difficult it is to police a criminal group that is advancing faster than the existing laws to combat it. With states, counties and cities passing their own laws targeting different links in the PGM supply chain, thieves can steal converters in one city and drive to another to legally sell them. Until we reach a common standard, criminals will continue to win.
These national and international standards should be rooted in the twin priorities of increasing the risks faced by players while preventing them from using legitimate businesses. Examples include:
- Giving prosecutors tougher penalties for catalytic converter theft.
- Funding for police departments to create a professional force.
- Establishing licensing and documentation requirements for legitimate businesses in the recycling stream to avoid confusion in all areas.
- Using RICO statutes to disrupt the criminal justice system.
Some approaches being taken by various countries are more promising than others; there are a growing number of laws that push for mandatory prison sentences and criminal charges for those caught stealing converters, effectively putting the thief on the job. Unfortunately, laws in some states will do little more than destroy the recycling stream for these precious metals, such as Connecticut’s law that states that recyclers can only accept replacements if they are still attached to the vehicle.
What can car owners do?
While companies like PGM of Texas work with law enforcement to take a proactive approach to dealing with criminals, car owners can take precautions. Although nothing foolproof, anti-theft screens can reduce theft. On a larger scale, citizen involvement with law enforcement often makes a big difference, whether it’s quickly reporting suspicious activity and stealing or sharing video from home security cameras. Membership in neighborhood watch groups and on sites like NextDoor can also promote team spirit.
While individual measures such as these can help reduce property losses, the ultimate solution is the country is encouraged to take meaningful action. The longer we wait to fully address this issue, the more damage we will see, bloodshed and loss of life. Out of respect for those who have lost loved ones to this epidemic, let’s recognize these violent events as a revival and deal with this together.
Art Acevedo is a law enforcement professional with 35 years of experience and a former police chief in Austin, Houston and Miami. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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