WA legislators target catalytic converter thefts as TC Cancer Center Foundation falls victim

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Washington legislators are voting on two bills aiming to tackle catalytic converter thefts — a problem that continues to rise not only in the Tri-Cities but across the nation.

Senate Bill 5495 would add precious metals to a list of transactions that scrap metal businesses must record.

It would also give those businesses receiving the metal a fine of up to $1,000 dollars for a gross misdemeanor crime if they know the metal is stolen.

House Bill 1815 would create a pilot project with Washington State Patrol to put identifying information on catalytic converters for tracking purposes, and it would create a task force to review state laws on the thefts.

Senator Jeff Wilson with the 19th District, who’s spearheading S.B. 5495, called it “a “bipartisan-supported bill designed to intercept an epidemic of a crime spree” during a committee hearing earlier this week.

“It’s become what I would say is the crime of the day,” Wilson said. “These converters are located underneath the vehicles and with a simple handheld saw or a battery-operated saw, it could only take 60 seconds and your vehicle is disabled.”

Wilson said thieves are not only interested in the machines themselves but what is inside.

“These ingredients consist of very valuable and precious materials including palladium, platinum copper metal, nickel, and much more,” Wilson said.

According to the New York Times, the values of these metals have spiked as much as up to around $20,000 per ounce.

“It’s a target-rich environment, right? The vehicles are all around us, no entry is required, so car alarms are ineffective. This is easy pickings,” said Gary Ernsdorff with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Officials said these thefts are “devastating blows to victims” especially during the pandemic’s economy.

“Catalytic converters have now placed Washington state in the top four for overall thefts,” Wilson said.

One of those victims is the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation, whose van was targeted on Monday.

Someone stole both of the van’s catalytic converters and the oxygen sensor.

Elizabeth McLaughlin, the TCCCF’s executive director, said the van had to be towed to Sunnyside due to the size of the vehicle.

“I was just kind of disappointed that someone would do that to our van,” McLaughlin said.

She added that the van had been parked right outside of the center’s building in broad daylight.

“It’s hard times for people but the impact that you’re making on people who are just trying to get around safely and provide an important service to the community is significant,” McLaughlin said. “We’re able to bring cancer screening, prevention, early detection outreach out to our community, and that van’s been a critical piece of that.”

Now, they’re facing thousands of dollars in damages, plus towing costs, their insurance deductible, rental costs, and more.

“That’s less money we can direct toward our mission,” McLaughlin said.

Officials said people should be aware of their surroundings and to stay vigilant as this can affect anyone who has a vehicle.

To track the progress on S.B. 5495, click here.

To track the progress on H.B. 1815, click here.