SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — On Wednesday, law enforcement officials from the Austin and San Antonio areas took a tour at PGM of Texas, a catalytic converter recycling facility in San Marcos.
Officials were there to better educate themselves on the recycling process in an effort to learn how law enforcement can collaborate with the private sector to crack down on thieves reselling the converters.
“This whole catalytic converter theft and recycling portion, it’s something that’s new. And so we’re going to have to work with legitimate recycling companies to educate ourselves on how the process actually works,” Craig Smith, Travis County Sheriff’s Office’s Major of the Enforcement Bureau, said Wednesday.
Smith said PGM goes above and beyond with its verification process.
“We’re looking for proof of ownership, we’re checking IDs and titles and registration paperwork,” JR Willis, PGM of Texas’ COO, said Wednesday. Those documentation efforts are required by law, but Willis said they take it a step further.
“We’re actually doing more research on who people say they are,” Willis said.
“There’s about 44 million cars at its end of life every year in the US. And that’s a lot of converters that need to be recycled, we, we handle a big portion of that. But the goal here is to continue ethically recycling these converters and doing it in a way that minimizes crime,” Willis explained.
Once the converters are through the documentation process, they sit for five days before being recycled.
“Those converters are actually staying on a five-day wait in case they turn up stolen, and law enforcement needs to take a look. I think that they’re doing things right. They’re following the process. And they’re following the law. And they’re inviting us in to learn that process and help,” Smith said.
“There are some organizations and some businesses that are not requiring people to provide the most accurate documents. And until we get everybody on board of doing that, then we’ve still got some people that are doing it underground,” Smith continued.
Willis said it’s disappointing existing state laws aren’t being strictly enforced elsewhere.
“It’s frustrating because we know that the industry is getting a bad reputation. And we know that the stolen converters are still being sold and purchased by companies that are not doing things correctly, or ethically,” Willis continued.
Law enforcement officials said Wednesday’s conversations will help guide them to better collaborate with the private sector, and how to ensure existing rules are being followed.
“I think there needs to be a better way to track these catalytic converters, there also needs to be in a way that the state can audit certain companies,” Jerry Bauzon, Austin Police Department’s Assistant Chief, told KXAN Wednesday.
“Today is one of the first conversations that we’re having with other law enforcement agencies, where we can gather together in one room and we can brainstorm,” Bauzon explained.
“I understand Chief [Art] Acevedo wants to bring this to Houston, where we’ll be able to meet and gather again to come up with other strategies where we can come up with a statewide a process where we can all work together,” Bauzon continued.
Smith said officials can look back at previous patterns to decide what to recommend to lawmakers for changes to existing law.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 29 years. And so I look back, and it was, it was pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine labs, and then you fast forward and it turned to stealing copper,” Smith said.
“We saw the same type of thing, where they’re pulling wire out of new construction homes or pulling wire out of businesses that are being built, and then melting the plastic off just so they can go recycle the copper,” Smith explained.
Smith said it took legislation addressing recycling requirements before those thefts decreased.
“Before somebody could recycle copper, you had to provide your license plate number, your driver’s license number, and photographs of all that. And so those consistent laws are what helped us crackdown on those people that were stealing and trying to recycle copper,” Smith said, adding that it’s important those requirements are implemented across state lines.
“Maybe a thief steals catalytic converters here locally, but then they transport them somewhere else in the state to sell them. And then that person’s transporting them to another state to resell them. And so all of a sudden, you come up with a converter that now has changed hands several times and even moved across state lines,” Smith explained.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick included catalytic converters in his interim charges for state senators this year, signaling more legislation on the way next legislative session, in addition to what they passed in 2021.