King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Continues Push for Legislation to Combat Catalytic Converter Thefts

Yesterday, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) continued to urge Washington lawmakers to enact tougher polices to curb the demand for catalytic converters that are illegally stolen and then sold throughout Washington State. The KCPAO-backed catalytic converter bill, ESHB 2153, unanimously passed the House on February 13 and is now being considered by the Senate.

Over multiple legislative sessions, the KCPAO has worked directly with the Washington State Legislature to develop and pass legislation to combat catalytic converter thefts which disrupt the lives of residents in King County and across Washington.

“By taking action on ESHB 2153, Washington lawmakers have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to reduce the harm catalytic converter theft has on King County residents,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion. “I’m grateful for the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Cindy Ryu, and that the House unanimously passed this bill earlier this month. I urge Senators to act swiftly bring this bill to the Governor’s desk.”

Informed by years of experience investigating catalytic converter thefts in our region, on February 22, 2024, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gary Ernsdorff urged the Senate Transportation Committee to pass ESHB 2153, which aims to shrink the marketplace for stolen catalytic converters.

“Catalytic converter thefts disproportionally impact lower income folks — people who may have older cars with more valuable catalytic converters, and who may not always have insurance to cover the loss,” said Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gary Ernsdorff. “Once a catalytic converter is detached from a vehicle, they are impossible to trace. And right now, we have a wild west marketplace that conducts the lion’s share of illegal transactions. It’s time for that to change.”

Ernsdoff laid out a plan for that thoughtful regulation, including: required recordkeeping and inspection, funded enforcement, and sure and swift penalties for recyclers who are not in compliance. This plan would decrease demand for illegal catalytic converters and allow law abiding recyclers to continue conducting their legal and profitable businesses.

Video of the testimony is available on our YouTube page and a full transcript is available below.

TRANSCRIPT: Good afternoon, Chairman Liias, members of the committee, and thank you to Representative Ryu and other members who sponsored ESHB 2153.

My name is Gary Ernsdorff. I’m a Senior Prosecutor with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

I’ve seen the rapid proliferation of catalytic converter theft and the resulting damage to individuals and our communities.

I was part of that workgroup you referenced earlier. We did some really good work — there were great people representing many aspects of the industry.

One of the more disturbing findings that we came up with, was how this crime disproportionally impacts lower income folks in your jurisdictions. The people who can least afford it.

Those folks often have older cars with more valuable catalytic converter; they don’t always have insurance to cover losses, and they may only have one vehicle — meaning the resulting impact can impact the ability to get to a job, school, or other necessary daily functions.

The workgroup found that one of the best way to combat this is to more carefully regulate detached catalytic converters and the marketplace.

Currently once a catalytic converters is detached from a vehicle, they are impossible to trace. Law enforcement has no ability to trace them back to vehicles.

So 30 seconds of work by a prolific thief and they now possess an untraceable $500 commodity, and it’s not difficult to convert them to cash.

Right now, we have a wild west marketplace that conducts the lion’s share of illegal tractions going on. That marketplace has no licensing requirement, no record keeping, no inspections, no regulations, no nothing.

And as a result, there are plenty of criminal operators occupying that space. It’s really no wonder why this crime has taken off and why so many Washingtonians have been victimized.

It is time for a change.

ESHB 2153 directly addresses the issues the work group identified; it:

  1. Requires catalytic converters to be marked so they are traceable, so law enforcement doesn’t have to walk away from that pile of catalytic converters that everyone knows is stolen but they have no way to currently trace back.
  2. Requires purchasers to be licensed, regulated, and inspected, and;

3. It creates specific and real penalties for those actors will continue to play outside the rules.

Consumers get protection, law enforcement gets the tools they need, this is a win for every Washingtonian.

Senators, 2153 is smart, easy, and cheap and I encourage you to vote yes on this bill.

With my remaining time I want to address a couple questions previously raised. On inspections, our workgroup looked for any inspections going on statewide for purchase of any catalytic converters and we found evidence of zero. Zero inspections going on right now. 2153 will change that.

There was a question about serial numbers vs VIN numbers. Catalytic converters do not have individualized serial numbers; they have model numbers that help law enforcement trace it back to a vehicle, maybe, but not individualized. What we targeted in our workgroup is VINs; there’s already a database of VINS, law enforcement can piggyback on that preexisting database. It’s an easy way to make these identifiable.

And third, impact on current license holders. There are already regulations requiring them to keep records of their business transactions. This bill targets those unlicensed individuals out there buying and selling stolen catalytic converters every day. This burdens the thief — not the upstanding businessperson in our community.