Chicago moves to dry up the market for stolen catalytic converters

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After telling horror stories about how quick and easy it is to remove them, Chicago aldermen moved Thursday to dry up the market for stolen catalytic converters.

At the behest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety approved an ordinance that would prohibit secondhand dealers, junk peddlers and pawn shops from purchasing any catalytic converter not attached to a motor vehicle.

The same general restrictions would be imposed on motor vehicle repair shops and recycling facilities. The would be allowed to purchased detached catalytic converters, only from another licensed counterpart, permitted recycling facility or from the original manufacturer.

Fines would range from $1,000 to $2,000 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for three or more offenses within a one-year period.

Catalytic converter theft is running rampant in Chicago and elsewhere because the parts are easy to remove and and valuable to redeem because they contain platinum, rhodium and other precious metals.

The going rate in the black market is anywhere from $100  to $150, Quinn contends. It costs the owner of the car, truck or van anywhere from $500 for a used device all the way up to $2,000.

Since thieves “do not use the utmost care” in removing converters, victims are often left with “other expensive damage” in addition to replacing the stolen part.

“A skilled thief using a reciprocating saw can remove one in 30 seconds. [That] has created a robust black market,” Quinn said Thursday.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th)

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th)

“It is not dissimilar from people who break into unoccupied homes and buildings to rip out copper wires and pipes right out of the walls or vandals who cut aluminum guardrails off interstate highways to sell at scrap metal dealers for a fraction of their value.”

Quinn acknowledged that the crackdown advanced Thursday would not prohibit thieves from peddling their stolen parts in surrounding suburbs. That’s why he’s urging officials in Cicero and Oak Lawn to adopt similar ordinances.

“This is a regional problem that local cities, towns and villages must work together to address,” he said, calling the epidemic of catalytic converter theft a “significant potential driver” of higher insurance rates for Chicagoans.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) said catalytic converter theft happens all the time to cars parked at the five Metra stations along Longwood Drive and in private driveways in Beverly and Morgan Park.

“I actually saw a video of these guys. Someone had a camera mounted on the front of her house. It was 41 seconds from when a car stopped in the street. The two idiots climbed out. One guy crawled under with his reciprocating saw, cut it loose. He slid it across the driveway. Another guy grabbed it, threw it in the truck. They both jumped in and they drove off,” O’Shea said.

“That particular night, they got three vehicles. Three catalytic converters in West Beverly. This is a very serious problem. It doesn’t get the attention that many of our other criminal problems get. But for those of us who border suburban municipalities, it’s incumbent on us to reach out to leaders to get them involved also. This is not just about Chicago.”

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