Catalytic converter thefts down after arrest of Batesville couple

Published 1:34 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

The arrests of two Batesville residents earlier this month has drastically slowed the rate of catalytic converter thefts in south Panola County.

Local law enforcement officials are pushing for statewide legislation they hope will curb the theft of the expensive vehicle exhaust components.

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Dakota Johnson, 23, of 117 Lomax, and Amy Anderson, 40, of 760 Harmon Rd., have been charged with malicious mischief and petit larceny.

Investigators in the Sheriff’s Office have tied Johnson and Anderson to more than five thefts, and suspect the couple may have been involved in as many 40 reported incidents over the past three months.

Both have made initial appearances in Municipal Court and their cases have been bound over the next Grand Jury.

Catalytic converters are required on all vehicles currently manufactured and sold in the United States. The devices are designed to remove the majority of pollutants and toxic gases from a car or truck’s exhaust before it is vented into the air.

Catalytic converters contain, on average, about 3-7 grams of platinum group metals – classified by scrap metal yards and recyclers as “precious metals” that bring much higher prices than iron, tin, and aluminum.

Thieves, or people who buy stolen catalytic converters, separate the precious metal from the insides of the devices for sale at scrap metal yards.

Currently there are no state laws that address those types of metals from converters like the statues that exist for the sale of copper.

Theft of air conditioner units and house wiring was greatly reduced a few years ago when the State Legislature approved a bill that requires scrap metal businesses to record the name and address of anyone selling copper to a scrap yard, and put a three-day waiting period for payment of copper.

Until then, residential and commercial builders were plagued by theft of HVAC units and wiring from construction sites. Copper is still high on the list of desirable items for thieves, but the law requiring identification of copper sellers curbed those crimes.

Precious metals from inside catalytic converters can bring anywhere from $80 to $300 at scrap business. Stolen converters are often sold on a black market using Facebook and other platforms that not easily traceable.

Panola County investigators were looking for suspects in catalytic converter thefts from five churches and one individual when the names of Johnson and Anderson surfaced through the Narcotics Unit.

After a time of surveillance, the pair was taken into custody following a traffic stop in which narcotics were found. During questioning, the suspects cooperated with investigators, and provided information about the converter thefts.

Investigations Lt. Clint Roberson, who helped build the case, said the difficulty in apprehending suspects in these types of crimes is rooted in the extremely narrow window officers have to catch a thief committing the crime.

“Unless an officer happens to drive up on a scene where someone is rolling out from under a vehicle with a catalytic converter in their hands it’s very difficult to solve these crimes,” Roberson said.

“A difficult extraction would take less than two minutes,” he said, adding that many vehicles have catalytic converter models that can be cut off in 30 seconds.

Auto owners aren’t aware of the thefts until they start their vehicle and hear a loud roar from their exhaust. New muffler systems are the only repair after a converter is stolen.