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Lawmakers consider tougher penalties for catalytic converter thefts

Johnson County has been hit hard by a crime that is costing people thousands of dollars to repair.

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Indiana lawmakers are considering tougher penalties for catalytic converter thefts.

It's a crime on the rise, that's costing people hundreds even thousands of dollars.

Johnson County, hit especially hard, is leading the charge for a law change.

Under your car, the crime happens fast.

"They usually cut it off here, cut if off here at the top and within 30 seconds to a minute, they're gone," explained David Bleke, owner of Center Grove Tire, which has fallen victim to thieves.

Crooks targeting catalytic converters can make several hundred bucks, by selling them for the precious metals they contain.

It's become a big problem in Johnson County, where Edinburgh is home to many core buyers and scrap yards.

The county had 170 thefts last year, according to the Johnson County Sheriff's Department.

Center Grove Tire got hit eight times in 12 weeks.

"I'm extremely frustrated," Bleke said. "You know, people in the community bring their cars to, whether it's me or someone else, and they expect trust. And so, you know, my trust is violated when that happens."

It's why prosecutors and police are pushing for a law change to deter thieves.

Senate Bill 167 would make catalytic converter thefts felonies, with possible prison time.

"This is frustrating for neighbors. It's frustrating for all of law enforcement. With a stricter penalty, hopefully it'll slow it down a little bit," said Johnson County Sheriff's Investigations Commander Damian Katt.

Detectives have made several arrests in Johnson County, including one man they say was responsible for some of the thefts at Center Grove Tire.

And many of the crimes have been caught on camera, which can help police identify suspects.

But they say the problem is the punishment now is more like a slap on the wrist.

Stealing catalytic converters is a misdemeanor currently.

Up the chain, core buyers that knowingly buy stolen converters only get an infraction, even though they make $200 to over $1,000 per part.

"At that point, for them it's like financially, I'll pay the infraction fine and continue to go about my business," Katt said.

Victims want a change, too and say tougher penalties just might do the trick.

"I hope it makes them think twice," Bleke said. "Something has to happen to deter it. Usually the money does it. The more you get in their pocket, the more it deters them."

SB 167 passed through committee unanimously.

It's expected to get a full Senate vote by next week, before it heads to the Indiana House.