Last year, King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gary Ernsdorff testified before a state legislative committee in Olympia about the urgency of doing something meaningful to combat catalytic converter theft.

“I encourage you to act swiftly and surely,” Ernsdorff told the lawmakers. “A delay to next year’s legislative session only means that thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Washingtonians will be victimized during the delay.”

The Legislature did not take substantive action. Instead, it ordered a study.

Meanwhile, 23 law enforcement agencies across the state reported more than 8,000 police reports were filed on catalytic converter theft from January to August last year. When the final numbers for the year are tallied, they are expected to far exceed the more than 12,000 reported thefts in 2021.

Unless legislators act now, tens of thousands of state residents will be victimized by this crime in the coming months. Further dawdling is inexcusable.

Ernsdorff has some ideas.

Over the summer, a work group convened as part of the state-ordered study. Ernsdorff was among the many participants. Last month, it produced a final report with legislative recommendations. And then … nothing.


“I expected someone to be waiting for it and ready to act because this impacts thousands of people across the state,” Ernsdorff said in an interview. “I hadn’t seen any activity on it so I started asking, what’s happening? The word I got was it didn’t look like much was happening with it.”

So Ernsdorff got to drafting a bill on his own. To underscore the need to pass something this session, he called the act “Address Catalytic Converter Theft Now” — or ACCT Now. He has been sending drafts to Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline. King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion has also connected with legislators about the proposal.

The Legislature’s sluggish response to catalytic converter theft is incomprehensible. By now, thousands of Washingtonians have either had their converter stolen, or know someone who has. It can cost upward of $1,000 to fix. As the report dryly noted, victims are left without a functioning car until repairs are made. “This frequently causes an unexpected and urgent need to find alternative modes of transportation for work, child care, and other daily routines that depend on personal transportation.”

As with all crime, it impacts those with lower incomes disproportionately harder.

People steal catalytic converters, which are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, because they have precious metals inside. Rhodium, for example, is valued at around $12,000 per ounce. They are easy to steal by slipping under a vehicle with an electric saw, and thieves can make thousands of dollars a night after selling them to dealers and scrap yards.

It doesn’t make sense to go after low-level perpetrators. Instead, Ernsdorff’s draft legislation appropriately focuses on those individuals and organizations that traffic in stolen parts.


“If we can eliminate the marketplace for illegally removed catalytic converters we will end this crime,” he said.

Among other provisions, ACCT Now would require anyone purchasing catalytic converters to have a valid scrap metal or auto wreckers license. The license would have to be displayed at the location where the transaction takes place, and in all advertisements soliciting catalytic converters.

The proposed bill would prohibit sales if the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vehicle was not clearly and permanently marked on the catalytic converter.

“We’ve had cases where somebody advertised on Facebook, ‘Come to this parking lot.’ They’re in the parking lot with a panel van and they’re buying catalytic converters from anybody who shows up,” said Ernsdorff. “Nothing is illegal unless we can prove a specific catalytic converter was stolen. With the absence of some unique numbering system that’s almost impossible to do.”

Ernsdorff also proposed increasing penalties for possessing and trafficking unmarked catalytic converters.

While it is late in the legislative session to be introducing new bills, elected officials need to move toward a solution for this problem.

Lawmakers sometimes get accused of pandering to the masses. Not in this case. With some exceptions, Olympia seems strangely blasé about catalytic converter theft.

Ernsdorff and the King County Prosecutor’s Office should be commended for taking this on. If legislators truly want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, they should take substantive and meaningful actions to end this pernicious and prevalent crime.