Monday, September 17, 2012

Theft Of Catalytic Converters Likely To Steadily Increase, Due To Rising Metal Prices; LE Struggles Likely To Continue

Executive Summary:
Catalytic converter thefts will likely continue to increase due to rising metal prices. In addition, it is likely that law enforcement agencies will continue to struggle with these crimes as stealing a catalytic converter takes a matter of minutes to commit, is hard to trace, and yields high returns. Increasing awareness for motor vehicle owners, working with scrap yards, and implementing various deterrents are likely to facilitate law enforcement agencies in reducing the number of these crimes committed.

Discussion:
Every new vehicle sold in the United States must meet specific emissions standards. In order to achieve these, automobile manufacturers use a device called a catalytic converter to reduce harmful emissions into more benign ones. Manufacturers construct catalytic converters with metals that include: platinum, rhodium, palladium, and, increasingly, gold, in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The significant increase in prices for these metals in the last decade, coupled with the ease of removing and selling these parts for scrap, will likely contribute to the rising number of thefts.

Theft of catalytic converters is difficult for law enforcement to detect and stop.  The catalytic converter comes free of the vehicle after two cuts along the exhaust line using a battery operated saw and thieves can accomplish this in under a minute. Thieves prefer vehicles that sit higher off the ground, such as SUVs and trucks, as they are easier to maneuver under. In addition, catalytic converters are worth anywhere from $50 to $200 from scrap metal dealers. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reported an increase in the theft of catalytic converters beginning in mid-2008. Due to the low risk of apprehension, coupled with the high payoff for a quick job, it is likely that this trend will continue to increase.


Once a catalytic converter is stolen, thieves take converters to scrap yards. Scrap yard then typically resell the catalytic converters to plants that are designed to recover the metals. With rhodium worth approximately $9,500 an ounce and platinum worth approximately $2,000 an ounce, and the value of the metals only increasing, it is likely that the number of thefts will continue. Recently, scrap yards have tried to deter catalytic converter thefts refusing to buy  them directly from individual sellers.

The number of catalytic converter theft cases are plentiful nationwide. For instance, on 16 August 2012, the Ventura Police Department in Ventura, California issued a public warning to city residents to be aware of an increase in thefts of catalytic converters from vehicles since 1 July 2012. Police said that over the course of the two month investigation, criminals stole converters from 13 vehicles, all Toyota SUVs.  Milwaukee’s Journal Star reported an increase in thefts beginning in May 2012, and the NY Daily News reported that, across the country, the black market resale of the converters has increased thefts.

Because of the increase seen across the country,  the concern for law enforcement agencies on all levels will likely increase. Police agencies attempt to combat the problem by issuing a series of public warnings, like the case in Ventura, CA, and raising awareness. Unfortunately, the nature of the crime negates the possibility of truly combatting criminals. Law enforcement authorities’ efforts are mostly focused on prevention. The Ohio Department of Insurance Fraud Division, along with Nationwide, sponsored an “Etch and Catch” event in Columbus to help motorists protect their vehicle’s catalytic converters from being stolen.

Gary Bush, the National Law Enforcement Liaison and Director of Theft Prevention at the Institute of Scrap Recycling industries said that a lack of communication between victims, law enforcement and recyclers can cause thefts to go unsolved.  Adding to the difficulty, thieves often mix stolen items with legitimate ones, making it difficult for scrap yards to tell the difference.

Analytical Confidence:
Analytic confidence for this assessment is moderate.  The analysts did not utilize structured methods of analysis for this report.  Source reliability is high and the sources corroborated each other.  The analysts’ expertise is  low and the analysts worked in a group.  Subject complexity is medium and the time available for the task was adequate.

Methods And Processes:
Tools used by the team were divided by purpose. In order to coordinate a time in which work would be done, the team agreed to use phone communications, both calls and SMS. While working on the document, the team used Google’s built-in document chat. If work was done outside of the team work sessions, the Google Doc comment function was used to note additions, revisions, or suggestions.

Due to conflicting schedules, the team was unable to work simultaneously for very long. However, the team was still able to carry out its original plan, with the only modification being the use of SMS to update other team members of work done.

Contact Information:
For comments, questions, or additional information, please contact the analysts:

Chad Los Schumacher
clossc80@lakers.mercyhurst.edu

Peter O’Malley
pomall01@lakers.mercyhurst.edu

Shawn Ruminski
srumin25@lakers.mercyhurst.edu

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