Police battle catalytic converter thefts by warning scrap metal buyers about new laws

Crime in Indianapolis

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Central Indiana authorities are entering a new phase in the fight against catalytic converter theft by delivering a warning about current laws to businesses that purchase the auto parts off the street.

During a two-day operation last week, members of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Edinburgh Police Department and Franklin Police Department conducted covert surveillance at multiple recycling centers and auto parts shops in the Edinburgh area. Over the course of one day, individuals brought 203 catalytic converters to sell at five businesses that are known to purchase the parts.

“That is a staggering number,” said Johnson County Sheriff Duane Burgess. “And that is why we want to focus on getting this under control.”

Investigators stopped several vehicles after they left the businesses in order to learn more about the transactions being made. Several people were arrested on secondary offenses like outstanding warrants and suspended licenses.

On the second day of the operation, police paid surprise visits to five of the “core buyer” businesses and asked to see the records of sale regarding catalytic converters. Current Indiana law gives police access to such records without a warrant.

“People know that they’re bringing stolen merchandise in, and they’re getting rid of them for a larger price,” Burgess said. “People are driving from Ohio to Indiana to simply get rid of their product to make more money.”

“Nobody wants to get in trouble, so they were pretty cooperative,” said major Damian Katt with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

Police found the businesses were following outdated rules regarding the documentation required to buy and sell catalytic converters.

A new Indiana law, which took effect July 1 of this year, states a business can only purchase a catalytic converter that’s not still attached to a vehicle if the person trying to sell it has proof of ownership of the vehicle the part came from. Such documentation can include a vehicle title or registration, a receipt from a transaction of repair for the vehicle, or an affidavit by a law enforcement officer attesting to the officer’s reasonable belief that the catalytic converter lawfully came into the possession of the person attempting to sell the catalytic converter.

The new law also increases violations to a level 6 felony, instead of a class A misdemeanor.

Katt said the outdated rules businesses were following only required the seller’s identification and proof of ownership of the vehicle they arrived in.

“Requiring the documentation that was necessary prior to July 1st,” Katt said.

At that point, police opened conversations with each business owner about the more strict requirements of the new law. They also delivered the message that this will be their only warning.

“The businesses know exactly what’s required of them, it’s been documented that we’ve been here, we’ve talked,” Katt said.

“We definitely know that we’ve given them the right information to do their job,” Burgess said. “Because we have the right information to do our job, and we’re going to follow up on it.”

Burgess and Katt added that more operations like this are planned in the future. If violations are found again, no warnings will be given.

“Next time, if there are violations, they’ll be filed with the prosecutor’s office,” Katt said.

“People will go to jail,” Burgess said.

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