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As catalytic converters thefts rise 3,800% in Washington state, lawmakers look for solutions

WSP would head up a task force, under a proposed law, to find solutions to the increase.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — State legislators know catalytic converter thefts are a problem.

Figuring out how to solve it is not as easy, House members said Tuesday.

The number of catalytic converter thefts increased in the state by 3,800% between 2019 and 2020, according to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

The converters contain precious metals and are attached to the undercarriage of most vehicles.

Surveillance video has shown thieves sawing out the parts underneath cars, trucks, and vans, removing them within seconds.

A bill to put the Washington State Patrol in charge of a task force to look into possible solutions had a public hearing Tuesday morning.

The task force would consist of members of the legislature, law enforcement, insurance companies, and auto wreckers.

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The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, said three vans at her Edmonds church were hit by thieves last spring.

She suggested requiring car companies to put vehicle identification numbers on the converters so potential buyers would have access to the information to find out if they are stolen.

But Jim King, testifying on behalf of the Independent Business Association told members of the House Public Safety Committee that would be a bad idea.

"One of the reasons we know a catalytic converter is stolen, when it shows up at our auto wreckers, is when the person trying to sell it cannot identify it with a VIN number, so you don’t want to give them the VIN number by identifying it on the part.”

A lobbyist for metal and scrap recyclers, Holly Chisa, said current laws regarding the trade-in of stolen items, like copper wire, require recyclers to get several pieces of information 

Other issues the task force would tackle: who’s responsible for the thefts and where do the stolen parts end up?

"We need to figure out where it’s going, these precious metals,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who chairs the committee, “Is it all being put in containers and shipped across the Pacific? Who is behind all of this?”