A new bipartisan state law went into effect at the start of the new year in an effort to reduce the amount of catalytic converter thefts taking place throughout Oregon.
Senate Bill 803, sponsored by Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, and Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, puts in place market protections that will make it "nearly impossible to profit from selling catalytic converters" because there will be no buyers.
"Most catalytic converters ultimately end up in the chain-of-commerce at large recycling companies," said Kevin Demer, Multnomah County's senior deputy district attorney. "These companies absolutely do not want to purchase stolen catalytic converters and with this law, only legitimately acquired catalytic converters will have the proper paperwork and be purchasable."
The bill went into effect Jan. 1.
Catalytic converters are an emission control device attached to a vehicle's exhaust system. The parts are attractive to thieves because they are easy to remove and contain valuable metals that can be sold for a quick buck.
Law enforcement said stolen converters are commonly sold for a few hundred dollars to a middleman, which is when the real profits come into play.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates the scrap metal in a converter is valued between $800 and $1,500.
Those middlemen, officials said, flip those converters to auto supply companies and scrapyards seeking precious metals like platinum and rhodium.
While not all recyclers know converters had been stolen, some may have turned a blind eye in the past, officials said, with few checks and balances. The new law prevents that trend.
Officials are describing the new system as being akin to protections around beer kegs, which have the same precious metals that make cat converters so coveted. The new bill attempts to make resale of the car part more difficult by limiting sales to commercial vendors only. It also requires scrap metal businesses to retain the make, model year, vehicle identification number, and license number associated with any cat converters they purchase.
"Rather than asking for more money to throw at the problem, SB 803 gets straight to the point by eliminating the financial incentive to steal a catalytic converter," Sen. Kennemer said.
Elected officials said communities can't rely on arrests and prosecution to solve the problem, as in the past few years the thefts of catalytic converters have skyrocketed while law enforcement agencies like the Gresham Police Department and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office are understaffed.
"This legislation earned broad support from legislators, law enforcement agencies, and the scrap metal industry," Sen. Gorsek said. "It will provide Oregonians across the state relief from being victims of catalytic converter thefts while conserving limited resources across law enforcement for other serious crimes."
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