WA leads nation in catalytic converter theft, and Wilson says Legislature must continue crackdown

Thefts increase 10,000% as Washington earns top honors in national crime statistics

Wilson, Senate leader on issue, offers solutions

OLYMPIA – Washington state is Number One in catalytic converter theft, according to a new report on national crime statistics, and Sen. Jeff Wilson says the Legislature better be ready to deal with the issue next session.

The report from BeenVerified.com, a national statistical-analysis firm, indicates Washington has seen a 10,000 percent increase in catalytic converter theft since 2019.

Wilson, R-Longview, led efforts in the state Senate this year to pass a bill cracking down on catalytic converter theft. The resulting compromise, passed in the form of House Bill 1815, starts the job. But Wilson said it’s a long way from being finished.

“The Legislature did the right thing this year when it took action to combat catalytic converter theft, and I want to commend my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for recognizing that this is one of the most important law enforcement issues in our state,” Wilson said.

“The resulting legislation was one of the most important bipartisan compromises of the 2022 legislative session. Unfortunately, it got us only halfway there.

“We didn’t increase prison time. We didn’t fund law enforcement. These were hung up in the Legislature’s bigger debate over policing and incarceration. But if we want to deal with this problem, we’re going to need to tackle crime head-on. The work will have to continue next year.”

Wilson said HB 1815 laid the foundation for an effective response to the fast-growing crime. Rising precious-metals prices have prompted a national crime wave, as thieves armed with hacksaws lop converters from tailpipes, wherever vehicles are parked. Converters now command high recycling prices due to the precious metals they contain.

This year’s legislation imposes strict requirements on scrapyards and wreckers that purchase used catalytic converters, to prevent them from entering legitimate retail channels. Among them, purchasers must check and record seller IDs and proof of ownership, and cash payments on the spot are prohibited. Violations are a misdemeanor, with a fine of $1,000 per converter.
Wilson introduced the initial bill on the subject in December 2021, SB 5495. He said the final legislation falls short of a comprehensive response because it kicked decisions about criminal penalties and further measures to a task force, due to report back to the Legislature on Jan. 1.

In addition, this year’s legislation authorized a grant program for policing efforts. But the budget failed to fund it. Wilson said a $2 million appropriation was envisioned for targeted police investigations of theft rings, including sting operations.

“This year’s legislation was an important step, because it makes it harder to fence stolen converters. I’m not sure why the law enforcement money was left out, and I think it should be obvious to everyone that we ought to target the people who are directly responsible. In the Legislature’s current climate, getting a commitment to think about getting tough on crime in 2023 was a victory.
“But we will need to follow through. The statistics we just got from BeenVerified ought to shock all of us. A 10,000 percent increase? Holy cow. That’s too big to ignore.”

Wilson said he will be monitoring the work of the task force as he considers proposals for the 2023 legislative session.