Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, local car dealerships have seen an uptick in crimes — specifically catalytic converter thefts.
Dylan Aamodt is one of the owners of Eastlake Auto Brokers in Kirkland who began the business with his wife in 2007, and the business has been in the same physical location since July 2009.
“Over the last, I would say, 15 months, I’ve probably lost 30 to 40 catalytic converters,” said Aamodt. “I’ve had multiple cars stolen off our lot and we get no help from the city — they don’t do anything.”
Eastlake Auto Brokers has filed numerous reports of theft during the month of May, according to the Kirkland Police Department. Aamodt said he files police reports every time a crime occurs on the dealership’s property, in addition to calling and emailing the Kirkland City Council. Last week, three Kirkland police officers stepped into Eastlake Auto Brokers to let Aamodt know they are trying to assist, according to Aamodt.
“All of the business owners are feeling the brunt of it,” said Aamodt.
While feeling a lack of assistance from local politicians, Aamodt said he has investigated solutions as a business owner. He’s looked into placing an armed guard on the site, which is unfeasible because it would cost about $10,000 per month, he said. Up until 2020, Eastlake Auto Brokers did not have a surveillance system, but once crimes became more frequent, Aamodt said he installed a $5,000 video surveillance system.
The auto dealership also fallen into issues with insurance companies as a direct result of theft.
“We’ve had so many claims on our insurance … my policy from last year would not even renew with us, they dropped us,” said Aamodt, who said he started a new policy this year that costs him six times more than the previous policy. “I’m so fricking scared to make a claim on this policy because if they drop me, I don’t know if I can get another insurance policy that will pick me up.”
This past March, police agencies across King County have started a Catalytic Converter Task Force to assist with curbing the issue. The task force includes police departments from Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell, Redmond, Issaquah, Medina, Clyde Hill and Mercer Island.
Catalytic converters contain valuable precious metals such as palladium, rhodium and platinum, which can be melted down and sold. A catalytic converter can be sold for up to $500, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Police report the average repair cost to replace the converters is $2,000 to $5,000 per vehicle.
Sergeant Eric Karp of the Kirkland Police Department said certain vehicles are at risk for catalytic converter thefts. According to Karp, Toyota models contain higher amounts of precious metals, which are more valuable, thus highly desired by thieves.
Karp also relayed how vehicles that sit high off the ground are easier to slide under, making them easier targets. Cars that have catalytic converters closer to the engine, however, are less likely to be targeted, he said. According to the city, catalytic converters do not have identifying marks, making them difficult to track down to the owner in order to successfully prosecute the thief.
On March 20, 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1815 into law, which states that “the Legislature found that the rates of catalytic converter thefts had rapidly increased statewide and nationwide, due in part to existing challenges with accurately identifying stolen catalytic converters.”
The enforcement portion of HB 1815 will take effect on July 1, which will in part require scrap metal dealers to verify proof of ownership of catalytic converters before purchasing them. In addition, photographic identification of those attempting to sell used catalytic converters will be required.
Police are also taking action to curb catalytic converter theft. On June 11, for example, the Kirkland Police Department will partner with the Lake Washington Institute of Technology to hold a catalytic converter etching event so that car owners can make their property easier to recover if stolen. The city hopes to make this a quarterly event in the future. According to the City of Kirkland, a statistical analysis of catalytic converter thefts reported to Kirkland police show that 170 catalytic converters were stolen in Kirkland in 2021, with 108 catalytic converter thefts being reported to KPD in 2022.