Uptick in catalytic converter thefts in Hamilton leads to tightened recycling requirements

·5 min read

Jan. 20—Hamilton City Council last week reversed course on its approach to curtail sales of stolen catalytic converters, and were thanked by a leader of Cohen Recycling for listening to what he, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser and others believe will be a more effective approach.

Council on Oct. 13 approved an ordinance that placed requirements on recycling businesses to register with the city after Mayor Pat Moeller said he heard concerns about increases in such thefts.

A week before that vote, Gmoser told the Journal-News he believed the proposed ordinance would create "unintended consequences" and by placing more requirements on legitimate recyclers and scrap dealers like Cohen, the company's response might be, "I'm not doing this anymore. I don't need the trouble."

Gmoser, the Butler County Sheriff's Office and Hamilton police all told this media outlet that Cohen was very helpful to their investigators, helping them find people who may have been trying to sell stolen property. Despite those concerns, council approved the legislation, with officials saying they could alter it later, but wanted to take action to end an onslaught of thefts. which are part of a nationwide trend.

The October ordinance made it a fourth-degree misdemeanor, with up to a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in jail for each device involved. The ordinance was to take effect Nov. 13, but before that happened, Neil Cohen, chief sustainability officer for Cohen Recycling, asked officials to push that date back and consider altering the new law. Cohen and Hamilton police suggested ways to alter it. The original city law's effective date was pushed back to Jan. 12.

The new legislation approved last week removes some registrations scrap dealers had to file with the city, and instead placed an increased focus on those selling the devices, which are expensive for vehicle owners to replace.

Among the things sellers of catalytic converters have to supply are: — A certificate of title associated with the catalytic converter in the name of the seller; or — Names, addresses, and phone numbers of the person or company that removed the catalytic converter; — Name of the person for whom the work was completed; — The year, make, and model of the vehicle from which the catalytic converter was removed; and — The vehicle identification numbers and license plate numbers of vehicle from which the devices were removed.

Council members researched for themselves

Council Member Eric Pohlman and newly elected Council Member Joel Lauer researched the issue and believed a replacement ordinance was needed.

"We came to an agreement that I think would be sufficient for satisfying both needs," Pohlman said. "I'm very proud of that. In fact, I'm proud that we actually did that, and listened to our businesses. I think council should look at this as a success in transparency and we should vote accordingly."

Cohen thanked council for "the cooperation with the city, with the police department, with council and other members of the city to try to create an ordinance that was satisfactory to the city and law enforcement as well as not hurt our business, and I couldn't be more grateful."

"I appreciate you guys more than you know, not just this — for everything that you do," Cohen said. "I really, really appreciate it, and I honor you all for doing that."

Lauer noted the catalytic converter ordinance was his "first opportunity to investigate some things on my own," and was pleased to hear Cohen Recycling works with police and deputies when it sees potentially stolen property.

Moeller said city government and local social-service agencies had devices stolen from their vehicles.

"Whether it's a first step or a final step, people came together and discussed," Moeller said.

He said some cities across the country have partnered with auto repair shops, towing companies and recycling companies to etch vehicle identification numbers or license-plate numbers onto the converters, along with bright stickers or paint on the devices. That way, thieves who go beneath the vehicles will see the devices are numbered and won't steal them.

Police can solve the problem

Gmoser this week called the city legislation "a good start," but added: "Ultimately, the black market of these devices is where the emphasis has to be, but that's not something that the city of Hamilton or any other municipality is going to be able to do by legislation."

"That's going to still be good ol' gumshoe police work — tracking down these people who come in" to sell stolen devices, he added.

"We know from experience that the purchasers of these stolen catalytic converters are coming in from Indiana," he said. "They deal with the crooks under the table to get them cut down to get the precious metals out of them, which are the reason these things are cut off in the first place."

If legitimate recycling companies like Cohen would stop buying the converters, "it'll further drive the crooks further underground and it wouldn't accomplish anything," Gmoser said.

He and Sheriff Richard Jones each offer $500 rewards for information that leads to arrests.

"It was reported in the paper, the fact that I didn't think this was going to be very helpful, the way they were writing it," Gmoser said. "They changed it, and I applaud them for that. I'm very happy with the city of Hamilton listening to law enforcement, and a merchant such as Neil Cohen, who's been a real asset when it comes to investigations."

"Neil's been very responsible as a scrap dealer," Gmoser said. "And he has been an asset in Hamilton and in Middletown to helping clean up the communities from scrap cars, from washing machines.

"That's why we don't have them out on the porches of houses. People will pick them up and take them to the salvage yards," Gmoser said. "You go to some areas in Kentucky, you look over the side of a hill and what do you see? A junk car, washing machines. A kettle and a pot."