Wednesday, 13 October 2021 13:55

Increase in Catalytic Converter Theft Leads to New Legislation in Wisconsin

Written by Diane Bezucha, Wisconsin Public Radio
A heat shield lies on the ground after thieves stole the catalytic converter from Madison resident Paul Schechter's truck in August.  A heat shield lies on the ground after thieves stole the catalytic converter from Madison resident Paul Schechter's truck in August.  Photo courtesy of Paul Schechter


...state Rep. Clint Moses, R-Menomonie, in June. Moses said catalytic converter theft was a big issue on the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus, school bus companies were complaining about it and law enforcement from across the Chippewa Valley were asking him to do something.


"We had people trickling over from Minnesota, cutting catalytic converters off any time of day, middle of the night, people are at work, people are sleeping," said Moses. "They're very brazen as far as when they'll do it."


Moses said part of the reason thieves were coming from across the border was because Minnesota recently passed legislation cracking down on sales of catalytic converters. This, along with pleas from local law enforcement, is what motivated Moses to draft a bill for his own state.


State Sens. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, and Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, along with others, quickly signed on, introducing an identical bill in the Senate.


"In my district and all across the state, thefts of catalytic converters rob people of their sense of security and their mobility as they await costly repairs and live in fear of a repeat crime," said Bernier. "Law enforcement and other constituents in my district have been vocal about the need to do something."


Catalytic converters are a part of a car's exhaust system, responsible for filtering out toxins from the emissions. But without unique serial numbers, they can be difficult to trace once stolen. 


And it happens quickly. Thieves cut out the converter in under two minutes and then sell it for the precious metals it contains, such as rhodium, palladium and platinum.


As prices for these metals increased rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did catalytic converter thefts across the country. According to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there were 3,389 reports of catalytic converter thefts in 2019---about 282 per month. In 2020, thefts grew by 325% to a whopping 14,433 thefts, with 2,347 thefts in the month of December alone.


And the surge has continued. In the Madison area, there have already been more than 300 thefts this year, said Moses.


"Recently, it's just gone nuts," said Wayne Schmiedlin, owner of Wayne's Automotive in Madison.


Schmiedlin said he has had three catalytic converters stolen from his property this year and has replaced...