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Indiana eyes tougher penalties for theft of catalytic converters from vehicles

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State lawmakers are looking to put some tougher penalties into place to help Hoosiers victimized by a common but pricey problem: the theft of catalytic converters from vehicles.

Senate Bill 167 could help thousands, considering Johnson County alone has recorded at least 150 such thefts, according to Prosecutor Joe Villaneuva.

Just a few minutes of work from a thief can easily cost victims a thousand dollars or more out of pocket. That’s why state Sen. Jack Sandlin, a Republican from Indianapolis, believes the punishment needs to fit the crime.

Evan Eckert, co-owner of Jug’s Catering, which has been hit hard, is all for the bill to become a law.

Eckert points out a large gaping hole under one of his trucks. Jug’s Catering, located in an office park near East 65th Street and Binford Boulvard, was hit recently. What’s worse, in the most recent crime, the thieves didn’t even get the catalytic converter they wanted. Instead, they took the exhaust system, which is much more expensive to replace but much less valuable than the catalytic converter.

“It’s been really tough for us,” Eckert said.

Jug’s Catering has been hit four times on three vehicles since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Its hospitality and large-event catering is down 80% due to the pandemic.

Eckert said other businesses in the same office park have also been victimized.

Eckert said extra security cameras and lighting have not enough to keep thieves away. They hit again two weeks ago. For now, the vehicle hit by the thieves will sit without the catalytic converter until it’s needed … out of fear it will just be stolen again.

“It’s a $2,000 deductible every time we do it, so while we’re already hurting right now, it sure doesn’t help the $2,000 every time it happens,” the Jug’s Catering co-owner said.

The state representative said it’s a crime that “hurts a lot of people.

Senate Bill 167 would make every theft of a catalytic converter a felony with prison time on the table. Currently, the value of the theft has to be at least $750 to make it a felony. But, that does not consider the replacement cost, which is usually over $1,000 unless the vehicle owners themselves can replace the catalytic converters.

The bill would also allow for enhanced penalties for people with prior convictions, or found to have taken a larger number of parts.

“We want to try to reduce the incentive,” Sandlin said. “It takes about three minutes, according to the state policeman I’ve talked to, to slide underneath a vehicle.”

The converter is valuable because inside is platinum and other precious metals. Sandlin estimates it’s worth $300 to the thief.

He said it’s important to give prosecutors the right tools to prosecute, especially when many victims are churches and nonprofits that can’t afford the replacement cost.

“We always strive to have a penalty that will act as a deterrent. If you catch people doing it as a profession and they get incarcerated, you may slow that down.”

That sounds good to Eckert, who hopes, over time, a law would make their property a little less attractive. “If it’s being enforced and it truly is substantially more of a penalty, then, yeah, I think it will slow down,” Eckert said.

Sandlin said a second reading on the Senate Bill 167 could happen this week or next week. He expects it to pass with bipartisan support.

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