Bill toughening punishment for catalytic converter thefts takes effect July 1

The Class 6 Felony is punishable by up to five years behind bars
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 10:09 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2022 at 11:18 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Starting July 1, a list of new laws will take effect in Virginia, including a bill passed through General Assembly to toughen the punishment for catalytic converter thefts.

House Bill 740 increases the penalty for stealing or tampering with a car’s catalytic converter from a Class 1 Misdemeanor to a Class 6 Felony. The recent change in this punishment comes as areas across Richmond and the nation face a spike in catalytic converter thefts, impacting Richmond residents like Lisa Curll.

Nearly one year ago, Curll told NBC12 she had the catalytic converter on her Prius stolen while she was living in Henrico County.

“I turn it on, and it made this motorcycle sound like a Harley Davidson,” said Curll. “I immediately knew that something was wrong, so I called AAA. They came, they looked at it and said, ‘your catalytic converter is gone.’”

Lisa’s case is one of the hundreds reported by localities across the country. Earlier this month, an analysis by BeenVerified shows catalytic converter thefts through 2021 more than quadrupled from over 14,300 in 2020 to nearly 65,400 in 2021.

On June 13, the Richmond Police Department told NBC12 catalytic converter thefts nearly doubled from 150 in 2021 to 354 this year. On this same date, the Chesterfield County Police Department told NBC12 there were 101 converter thefts this time last year, but this has gone up to 124 in 2022.

A reason behind the rising number of thefts is because the demand and costs of metals found inside catalytic converters are at an all-time high.

NBC12 also reached out to Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield for updated statistics regarding catalytic converter thefts in these localities.

A spokesperson for the Henrico County Police Department told NBC12 as of June 13, there have been 429 catalytic converter thefts.

Under the new Virginia law, NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin says those who tamper or steal a catalytic converter can now face more time behind bars, compared to 12 months under the previous Class 1 Misdemeanor.

“It’s a serious felony. That means if you try to steal a catalytic converter and you damage a vehicle in doing so, you face up to five years in prison,” Benjamin said. “States across the country have increased the penalty for catalytic converter theft because this is a problem that’s been nationwide.”

In addition to the stiffer punishment, Benjamin also said the bill imposes additional regulations on scrap metal buyers and documentation regarding those purchases.

“If somebody steals a catalytic converter, it’s much harder now to sell it to a scrap metal purchaser,” Benjamin told NBC12.

House Bill 740 also requires that documentation be maintained for at least two years after the purchase and that copies be made available upon request to any law-enforcement officer.

As this new law goes into effect, Benjamin anticipates more messaging regarding the changes.

“I would expect law enforcement to be publicizing the fact that catalytic converter theft is now a felony,” said Benjamin.

Richmond resident Brendan Shull had his catalytic converter stolen three weeks ago.

“I started my car, and it’s very loud. It sounds like a racecar,” he said.

Since this incident, Shull has been able to replace his catalytic converter. In light of this additional penalty, Shull believes more must be done to target the core reasons behind the rising thefts.

“Times are really tough right now,” Shull said. “So people have to turn to these things. Of course, I’m very irked, having had something stolen from me. I really don’t know if throwing people in jail is going to be what stops it.”

To prevent catalytic converter thefts, the Henrico County Police Department advises people to park their cars in garages or well-lit areas.

The Henrico County Police Department also advises people to mark their catalytic converters or purchase a case to protect them. The department is also testing methods to help identify stolen converters buy using a high-heat spray paint and stencil.

To learn more about how to prevent catalytic converter thefts, click here.

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