Caught on Camera: Surveillance camera doesn’t deter catalytic converter theft

A WBTV Investigation tracks the rise of catalytic converter thefts and seeks possible solutions to protect car owners.
CMPD says criminals can make up to $800 for a single stolen catalytic converter.
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:54 PM EST

CORNELIUS, N.C. (WBTV) - The fact that there was a surveillance camera pointed directly at them didn’t deter the three thieves for a second. At noon on a Saturday, three men rushed out of a van and sawed two catalytic converters off a truck. They were fleeing the scene just four minutes after they got to work.

“It’s quite disturbing seeing someone pull up to your vehicle in broad daylight and steal something that you own,” KS Audio Video store owner Nathan Ziegler told WBTV.

Ziegler’s surveillance system captured in perfect video and audio a theft trend that has exploded in frequency over the past several years.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter theft grew by more than 1,000 percent from 2019 to 2022 nationwide.

Stolen converters are sold to recyclers for up to $800.

That’s largely due to a similar spike in the price of precious metals found in catalytic converters. Palladium, Platinum and especially Rhodium have skyrocketed in value since 2018.

Stolen converters are sold to recyclers for up to $800.

Also Read: Charlotte man waited 22 minutes for medical attention after CMPD’s call for help

Ziegler says he has reason to worry about lightning striking twice at his shop.

“We have more vehicles, and they can potentially pull up and take those precious metals,” Ziegler said.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, North Carolina ranked in the top five states for catalytic converters thefts in 2020. Law enforcement has taken notice.

Captain Michael Anderson with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was part of Operation Sawzall, an investigation targeting catalytic converter theft.

Operation Sawzall resulted in 17 arrests. CMPD reports there were nearly 1,200 converter thefts in 2022, down 20 percent from 2021.

“That is a lot of arrests,” Captain Anderson told WBTV.

“It really helped out, not only at targeting street level cutters, but also it targets the buyers as well as targeting the metal recycling locations.”

But Anderson says there are limits as to what law enforcement can achieve.

“There needs to be more outside of law enforcement,” Anderson said.

Ziegler says he think auto manufacturers should be doing more to deter catalytic converter theft.

“I think it comes back to the manufacture putting precious metals underneath the vehicle and making it easy for them to take,” Ziegler said.

Congressman Jim Baird from Indiana introduced a bill in the last Congress that aims to help preventing theft and tracking stolen converters.

“That’s the reason we want to put help for law enforcement,” Congressman Baird told WBTV.

“It takes a lot of their time and they can’t do anything about it.”

Baird reintroduced the bill to Congress on January 31st. It’s received support from both democrats and republicans.

One of the most impactful parts of the bill would require auto manufacturers to start marking catalytic converters with VIN numbers.

“If auto manufacturers would put a VIN number on the catalytic converters that gives us the ability to be able to track down a victim, but also to be able to make sure we put the appropriate charges on the suspect,” Captain Anderson told WBTV.

Congressman Baird’s bill has numerous sponsors, but none from car manufacturers.

WBTV started digging through records for the lobby group for car manufacturers, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

Meeting notes for the Alliance’s Safety Police Committee note “discussions continue to center on challenging provisions such as the potential of a parts marking requirement.”

Another note on legislation out of California read “we are trying to remove some of the manufacturer mandates of the bill.”

Baird said the requirements of the bill would ne more helpful to consumers than onerous for America’s car makers.

“We’re very conscious, or at least I am, about the extra burdens put on the manufacturers on. But you know, they put a number on almost every part in a vehicle,” Baird said.

In a statement to WBTV the Alliance wrote “One strategy to combat the criminal activity: stricter enforcement and monitoring of the chain-of-custody.”

“For example, many states already have rules on the books that address the resale of essential vehicle parts and subject scrap metal dealers to reporting and record keeping obligations. Adding detached catalytic converters to these lists could go a long way in helping deter the criminal activity and drying up the market for these stolen goods,” the statement from the Alliance read.

CMPD also believes a market requirement for auto parts similar to what already exists in pawn shops would be helpful to tracking down catalytic converter theft and preventing it in the future.

Baird’s bill would also supply grants to help mark existing catalytic converters. Police agencies across the country have held community meetups to mark people’s catalytic converters.

CMPD plans on holding its own marking event Saturday, February 25th at AAA at 10403 Park Rd in Charlotte.

Ziegler still says car manufacturers are the ones who can make the biggest difference deterring this spike in thefts.

I think it comes back to the manufacture putting precious metals underneath the vehicle and making it easy for them to take,” Zieglar said.