Houston City Council on Wednesday will vote to tighten regulations on businesses that buy catalytic converters and give cops more tools to take on those who steal them.
Houstonians have reported close to 3,200 incidents of catalytic converter thefts in the first three months of 2022, city attorneys said in a request to council this week, a 123 percent increase from the same time period in 2021. The phenomenon is not unique to Houston—catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise across the United States as the value of precious metals they contain have also soared.
Every gas-powered vehicle has a catalytic converter, sometimes two or more, which converts raw exhaust into emissions regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. With the proper tools, such as a reciprocating saw, it’s easy enough for thieves to cut through the exhaust pipes leading into and out of the converter and take it for themselves. They can then take the stolen car part to businesses that buy scrap metal and car parts and make a quick profit.
Under Wednesday’s consideration, new rules aim to make it more difficult for thieves to sell the stolen converters. The proposed ordinance will require more paperwork to sell a catalytic converter, including the make and model of the car, a vehicle identification number and a copy of the vehicle’s title. It also requires the same paperwork if a business, such as an auto repair shop, seeks to sell catalytic converters to other businesses, like scrap metal buyers.
A Houston police officer pulls out a stolen catalytic converter after checking under a vehicle as part of an investigation, Friday, June 4, 2021, in Houston.
Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer
In the same vote, council members will decide whether or not to make it a Class C misdemeanor—the equivalent of a traffic ticket—for an individual or business to possess a catalytic converter that has been cut off a car. Possessing a catalytic converter that has been unbolted and removed as designed would remain legal, according to the proposed rules.
“If people are bringing catalytic converters to businesses by five, six, or the dozens, common sense will tell you that they did not legitimately get them,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said through a spokesperson Monday. “… I believe this process will assist police in their investigations and help identify criminals.”
The rules will only apply to businesses and individuals within Houston’s city limits.
“Ultimately, the goal is to continue making Houston a safer city,” Turner continued. “The more jurisdictions that take affirmative steps to combat catalytic converter theft should result in fewer loopholes to avoid prosecution.”
The proposed ordinance is part of Turner’s One Safe Houston initiative to combat violent crime in the Bayou City.