Catalytic converter thefts have become increasingly common in Arizona, with a reported 900 stolen in 2021. In response, a bill has been proposed in the state senate to classify the theft of catalytic converters as a Class 6 felony, carrying a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $150,000 fine.
During a hearing before the vote, lawmakers were told that the thefts continue to rise, with more than 1,000 reports in the last seven months alone. The vast majority of these thefts occurred in the metro Phoenix area.
Catalytic converters are an essential component in a vehicle’s exhaust system, containing precious metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium. As such, skilled thieves can remove them quickly, leaving little evidence behind. Prosecution for these thefts is often challenging, as the devices do not have identifying numbers, making it difficult to link them to specific vehicles.
While a new law passed in May 2022 requires all individuals who buy an aftermarket catalytic converter to submit identifying information to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, lawmakers feel that this is not enough.
Republican Senator Anthony Kern sponsored the bill, which gained bipartisan support from his colleagues on the judiciary committee. Kern, who has not experienced catalytic converter theft personally, said, “It hasn’t happened to me, but I know a lot of people that it has happened to.”
The bill’s passage was supported by 18 parties, including the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Arizona and the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police. Kelsey Lundy, the managing partner at Compass Strategies AZ, who represents Enterprise Rent-A-Car, spoke to senators about the significant increase in catalytic converter thefts, saying that Enterprise had seen a significant increase in the last 12 months of converters being stolen from its rental cars.
The bill’s opposition came from 37 people, who expressed concerns about over-policing and prosecutorial overcharging in low-income neighborhoods. Cave Creek resident Beth Ballmann stated, “This offense does not warrant a felony charge. This bill will disproportionately affect homeless and addicted people.”
Despite these concerns, the bill’s sponsors pointed out that in less serious cases, a Class 6 felony could easily be downgraded to a Class 1 misdemeanor. They feel that the punishment is appropriate given the cost of replacing a catalytic converter, which can be upwards of $2,000.
The bill’s passage by the judiciary committee is the first step in the legislative process, with the full Senate still needing to approve it. If passed, Arizona will join several other states, including California and Illinois, in classifying catalytic converter theft as a felony.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported that the number of reported catalytic converter thefts rose from 1,300 in 2018 to over 52,000 in 2021. It remains to be seen whether classifying this theft as a felony will have a significant impact on the number of thefts, but lawmakers hope that it will deter would-be thieves and give law enforcement a better chance of prosecuting offenders.