By HEATHER RUPPE
The theft of catalytic converters from vehicles in Colleton County continues to rise, as local law enforcement officers say this is a criminal trend that doesn’t look like it is stopping anytime soon. Based on Colleton County Sheriff’s Office records, the initial rise in converter thefts began in December of 2019. It continued through 2020, with the numbers climbing and reaching several dozen reported thefts.
So far in 2021, there have been a total of 120 stolen catalytic converters in Colleton County: 57 of these reports to the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office were for theft, and the additional 12 were reports of attempted theft. In some cases, multiple catalytic converters were stolen at once.
More than a dozen people have been arrested for these thefts so far in 2021, but the crime itself continues.
Last week, about five cases of catalytic converter theft were reported to the sheriff’s office. While most of these crimes are occurring in Walterboro, the entire county has been targeted, including Edisto Beach.
In many cases, these thefts are related to groups of individuals working together. The sheriff's office is encouraging residents to be vigilant about their property.
The reason for the theft is simple: a catalytic converter contains metals that are sometimes valuable when sold. The catalytic converter is necessary for a vehicle to work properly, in that it reduces toxic gases and pollutants made by the internal combustion engine.
The charges for someone caught stealing a catalytic converter range from petty larceny, which carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail, to Breaking into a Motor Vehicle, which is a felony crime that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
According to information provided by the sheriff’s office, suspects caught stealing catalytic converters can also be charged with Permits to Transport and Sell, Tampering with a Motor Vehicle, and Obtaining Nonferrous Metals Unlawfully. The last charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of about $5,000.
This particular crime presents a number of complications when it comes to protecting one’s property. First off, the removal of a catalytic converter takes the average offender less than one minute and the thefts occur at all times of the day and night.
Secondly, thefts can occur anywhere. Victims have reported thefts anywhere from crowded parking lots at shopping centers to remote residential locations according to sheriff's office records.
Colleton residents should follow these tips to stay safe and to avoid being a victim of catalytic converter theft:
• Park vehicles in a secure garage or fenced-in area when possible.
• If no secure facility is accessible, ensure that the parking area is well lit.
• Install security cameras to capture illegal activities or suspicious persons.
• Etch a vehicle identification number or license plate ID in the converter.
• Report suspicious person(s) or vehicle(s) to law enforcement.