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Catalytic converter thefts on the rise in Ohio and beyond

Cat Converters.jpeg. Some residents and business owners have taken steps to avoid the re-theft of their catalytic converters. Pictured, several deterrents, such as color-spraying, VIN# inscription, and installation of a metal guard, have been deployed on this vehicle.
Todd Figgens/R J McKay
Some residents and business owners have taken steps to avoid the re-theft of their catalytic converters. Pictured, several deterrents, such as color-spraying, VIN# inscription, and installation of a metal guard, have been deployed on this vehicle.

Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise throughout Ohio for months. It’s costing car and business owners thousands of dollars. Local law enforcement agencies say they’re doing what they can to stop the thefts. Cory Frolik is a reporter with the Dayton Daily News. He spoke to WYSO’s Jerry Kenney about his recent article and research into the problem.

Catalytic converter thefts are not new. People have been stealing these for a long time. If you look back in 2016 and we had articles that said Ohio was ranked fourth in the nation for these thefts, but it's gotten bad. And that's because of the spike in value of the precious metals they contain rhodium, platinum, palladium. So, yes, the Dayton Police Department saw a 38% increase in reports of thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories this year. They've had 136 of these things. I contacted a bunch of other police departments and we've seen catalytic converter thefts Riverside, Centreville, Oakwood, Kettering. You know, you see on social media, people complaining about it. You see that neighborhood, online message boards, people are complaining about it. And actually, at a recent Dayton City Commission meeting, a couple of the speakers were business owners in Old North Dayton and one of the things they brought up was catalytic converter thefts. So, I mean, it's just it's happening everywhere.

And so, the residents of these communities are feeling the pain as far as cost. It's causing problems with insurance as well. Tell us what you found there.

Very much so. It is an expensive type of theft. I mean, if you have a catalytic converter stolen, it can cost $1,000, $2,000 to replace it. And, you know, some of these thieves, they're using power tools to cut them off the vehicles so they can cause all sorts of other damage as well. You know, other pieces, auto parts might need to be replaced as well, which, you know, once again increases the cost. It ruins people's cars a lot of times and some cars have two of these things and thousands of dollars is a giant cost for, you know, residents and for businesses. The sad part, it's very hard to protect against these. People have garages so they can put their cars there. There are secured spaces. People can put their vehicles, you know, kind of like maybe if they park on the street, maybe they can park in areas that see a lot of traffic or so b ut, you know, thieves using power tools, they can be in and out in minutes if they know what they're doing.

I've heard as little as 60 to 90 seconds they can be under the car and back out.

That's unreal. I mean, it's just incredible.

Corey, I spoke to Officer William Olinger with the Miami Township Police Department in Montgomery County and here's what he had to say about this being beyond a statewide issue.

*Officer William Olinger audio*: What we think is happening is, is that they're probably going across state lines. You know, they're probably selling what they can here and then taking the rest to neighboring states or as far out as they need after they get a certain load of catalytic converters to do that. And from what we hear, it's very lucrative. *End audio*

Yeah. I mean, people have to resell these and, you know, resellers oftentimes will pay $50 up to $250, maybe sometimes more than that for these pieces. There's a variety of kind of ideas for how to combat these. One of Ohio's lawmakers, state Representative Bob Young, has proposed legislation that would essentially require scrap dealers and other buyers to obtain information from people selling auto parts - proof that they have that their owners of these parts like some essentially evidence, in other words. And he claims that this would ban the sale of catalytic converters unless the sellers are scrapping the entire car. Dayton Police, I talked to the assistant police chief and he said, you know, another idea for fighting this type of crime is kind of mark the catalytic converters with serial numbers kind of akin to vehicle identification numbers. So, you know, you can go track them and you can find out, from sellers where these things are coming from.

That's probably the best idea is I mean, there are anti-theft devices, but I hear anecdotally that people can still cut those off, and they're not cheap either. Car owners can mark their own catalytic converters, you know, do something to make it so you could track it and try to look at, you know, contact local buyers and see if they show up. Now that it's becoming a problem and you're seeing it everywhere and you see people talking about it all the time, there may be, you know, a renewed push and renewed interest by legislators to actually get something done on this. I feel like there's definitely some momentum for some sort of action.

Cory Frolik with The Dayton Daily News. Thanks for your time and information.

Of course.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.