Indiana pushing to make catalytic converter theft a felony

NOW: Indiana pushing to make catalytic converter theft a felony

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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - All vehicles are manufactured with a part called a catalytic converter which helps limit how much pollution it puts into the air. The United States requires all vehicles on the road to have them as part of its Federal environment protection policies. St. Joseph County has seen a spike in the theft of these parts from cars. More than 170 have been reported stolen and three cases with a suspect in custody. The State of Indiana said it will take action to try and stop these thefts.

"If the scrapyards or, say, a bumper shop is buying them and not following procedure, that is stolen," said Indiana Senator Mike Bohacek, a Republican who represents parts of LaPorte, St. Joseph and Starke Counties. "So, this will certainly make scrap dealers start following the rules."

Senator Bohacek is part of an effort to upgrade the theft of catalytic converters from a misdemeanor to a felony, which would make it a crime with harsher penalties. Bohacek said Senate Bill 167 would also make the selling of those stolen parts a felony. At a press conference Wednesday, he and St. Joseph County law enforcement officials said this crime is a costly one that can also be a dangerous one.

"I don't want to call it inconvenience because anybody who has wanted to go some place and your car is not working, it's not an inconvenience," St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter said. "In some cases, it's a life-threatening event. In other cases, it still completely changes your life for that day."

Cotter said the crimes are difficult to prosecute because the thieves often steal the converters in secluded areas at night where there are no security cameras.

"Most of the time somebody gets up in the morning to go to work, they go to start their car, and that's when they realize in the last eight hours because they were in bed, somebody stole that converter," Cotter said.

You can often tell if your catalytic converter has been stolen because your engine is either louder than normal or it won't start at all.

"When those (converters) get cut off, you basically have a small area of pipe that is the exhaust for the car. It can be very loud," said Rich Oberle, the general manager of Paul's Auto Yard.

Oberle also said newer model cars may not start without a catalytic converter because that part is what keeps it in compliance with Federal regulation. Therefore, the sensors in a newer car would pick up an excess of air pollution coming from the exhaust and send an alert that could keep the car from running properly.

With the Indiana General Assembly working toward stiffer penalties for these thefts, local law enforcement said you at home can help.

"If you see something, say something," South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said. "We cannot do this alone. We need help."

Oberle said that something could be a sight or sound.

"If you see someone in a parking lot in the broad daylight and they've got a Sawzall with them, that should be an instant red flag that that converter is getting cut," Oberle said. "Using a tool to cut the catalytic converter is going to make a bunch of noise."

Senate Bill 167, the bill which would make stealing a catalytic converter a felony has already passed the Senate and now must pass the House in order to become law. That process could happen within weeks.

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