U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) joined today with local and state law enforcement officials to announce legislation he is introducing in the U.S. Senate to form a federal task force to address the widespread problem of catalytic converter theft.
“This legislation requires the Attorney General and the Secretary of Transportation to establish a federal task force to crack down on catalytic converter theft in a holistic approach as this is a crime that spans multiple jurisdictions. We know that thieves operate across state lines – coming here to Bergen County and then driving across the bridge or through the tunnel to sell catalytic converters in New York and other states,” said Sen. Menendez. “We need law enforcement agencies, advocates and insurers, car dealers and manufacturers to all be on the same page. And we need the public to know that catalytic converter theft is a major issue affecting far too many Americans across the country. It shouldn’t take thousands of innocent victims so far — and potentially thousands more in the future — to stop this epidemic in its tracks.”
Sen. Menendez’s Catalytic Converter Theft Task Force Act will create an interagency task force led by the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation, and will also include representatives from state and local law enforcement agencies. The legislation directs the task force to assess existing laws, regulations, and law enforcement practices and resources related to the rising rates of catalytic converter thefts and to make recommendations to Congress, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Transportation, and State and local law enforcement agencies on reforms to deter, detect, prevent, solve, and prosecute the theft and trafficking of catalytic converters, along with other automobile parts that contain precious metals that are being targeted by thieves.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
Last month, new legislation, (S249) was enacted in New Jersey changing certain regulations for the sale and purchase of catalytic converters, including allowing scrap metal businesses to only buy used catalytic converters from a registered business and requiring added verification of ownership when selling used catalytic converters to scrap metal businesses. The New Jersey law requires the business to document the vehicle identification number, the certificate of title or registration, a receipt from a repair transaction, or a bill of sale when purchasing a used catalytic converter or face fine for violation.
As this issue requires a whole-of-government approach, Sen. Menendez is introducing this federal legislation to address what is an interstate and multi-jurisdictional issue.
“Catalytic converter thefts impact our Law Enforcement agencies, our residents, and our communities. It is not only a local issue, but one that has grown statewide. In Bergen County alone, we had 944 catalytic converter thefts in 2022, and 386 so far in 2023,” said Wood-Ridge Police Chief Michael O’Donnell. “This is not an issue that local law enforcement can take on alone. We need the legal backing and strong legislation like the one being introduced by Senator Menendez will provide our Law Enforcement officers. I want to thank our elected officials, our Wood-Ridge Mayor and Senator Paul Sarlo and Sen. Bob Menendez for their unwavering support of Law Enforcement and for giving us the tools and resources we need to successfully do our jobs.”
Catalytic converter crimes have surged in New Jersey. In South Brunswick, 30 catalytic converters were stolen in ten days last month. In Hackettstown, the police pursued investigations on the theft of 18 catalytic converters from Amazon trucks parked on the same location. In Bergen County, thieves have targeted several municipalities including Teaneck, Elmwood Park, Glen Rock, amongst others.
“The theft of catalytic converters continues to be a widespread issue throughout New Jersey. These crimes are costing our residents thousands of dollars for repairs to their vehicles,” said Chief Andrew Caggiano, Vice President New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and Chief of the Montville Police Department. “The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police are proud to support this legislation and hope the task force created will assist State and local law enforcement in our efforts to prevent, detect and prosecute these offenders.”
“As the Sheriff of the County of Bergen, my primary goal is to protect the nearly 1 million residents and thousands of daily visitors from being victimized,” said Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton. “The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office will continue to collaborate and work cooperatively with our local, county, state and federal law enforcement partners in an effort to reduce the recurrence of these crimes in our communities.”
Freddie Bittar, a resident of Garfield, was a victim of catalytic converter theft on December 19, 2022.
“I have a 2006 Honda CRV and I was a target right outside of my home. At approximately 4:30 in the morning, I was awoken to a loud noise outside. As I look out my window, I see three men trying to saw off my catalytic converter. I tried to rush downstairs, but they were gone in a matter of 2 minutes. I called the police immediately and made a police report. The officer explained to me that this is happening all over constantly and there isn’t anything they can do. Just to make a police report and report to insurance,” said Freddie Bittar. “Unfortunately, due to tough times I only have liability on my car. I then had to call out of work because I didn’t have a way to drive the vehicle. After the incident, I found out insurance wasn’t going to cover anything and I am responsible for everything. This problem is an epidemic, especially in New Jersey. It’s almost impossible to get the catalytic converter and if you do happen to find one the junkyard or people selling them are price gouging because they know how difficult they are to find. We are hard-working citizens and we’re being targeted outside of our homes. The biggest issue is if these criminals are caught, they’re hit with a slap on the wrist and they are released from jail just within a couple hours. It takes months for them to go to court so in the meantime, they just go out and continue to steal catalytic converters.”
The number of catalytic converter thefts reported in insurance company claims has greatly increased over the past three years, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that these thefts increased by 1,215% between 2019 and 2022. Stolen catalytic converters can garner anywhere from $20 to $350 on illegal markets, with the replacement cost to vehicle owners averaging over $2,500.