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A firm approach to dealing with CAT theft

I previously talked about the demand for resources and the impact this was having on crime which was compounded by ever-tightening emissions legislation and the inevitable increase in the value of Rhodium and other metals. (See the previous article here).

These high commodity prices bring additional challenges to the market, and those at the top end of the recycling sector appear to be pulling back because of fears over the rapid increases in the price of Rhodium.

The fluctuations and lack of long-term stability in the commodities market increase the risk when companies hedge material, and this risk must play a part in introducing a degree of caution.

Will this have an impact on the medium to long term value of Rhodium and the inevitable value of catalytic converters? Only time will tell, but we cannot rely on commodity prices alone to pull us out of this increase in criminality, but equally we cannot just police our way out either…

So, what can or are we doing to combat the current rise in metal related crime, and will it be enough to stem the significant increases we have suffered over the last twenty-four months?

To provide some context, it would not be unfair to suggest the agencies responsible for enforcement of those involved in the scrap metal or recycling sector has generally not been very good following the significant decline in thefts post 2014. We know that this was due to the combined success of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act in 2013, which brought stricter measures such as making it illegal to buy for cash and ID checks. However, it was also significantly impacted by a slump in the value of commodities which, along with the legislation, saw levels of crime fall and remain low until the beginning of 2019.

Unfortunately, there was a downside to this success, and as a result, the National Metal Theft Taskforce was disbanded in 2014 when the funding ended. This resulted in all the expertise and knowledge being lost and, in my opinion, a missed opportunity to embed tackling metal crime in business as usual for those involved in enforcement.

I am pleased to say that there has been a change and although it took an increase in theft across all metal types to bring about this change, the tide is turning and turning in the right direction.

Enforcement agencies and partners across the country are now working together to tackle all types of metal related crime to protect our infrastructure and communities. Under the leadership of the National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Metal Crime, British Transport Police are driving coordinated activity across the county with the support of Police forces, the Environment Agencies Joint Waste Crime Unit, and Partners who are all affected by metal related crime in one form or another.

In October 2020, we held our first national week of action to tackle metal-related crime focused on Scrap Metal dealers, mobile collectors and vehicle dismantlers. This was our first coordinated activity for several years, and the results were rather impressive, with 450 scrap dealers and 115 vehicle dismantlers visited, 29 arrests and 150 further offences identified, and 1121 mobile collectors stopped. See the infographic below or click here to open it as a PDF.

In April, we held our second week of action that was focused on catalytic converter theft and again, we saw some impressive results. There were 56 arrests, over a thousand stolen catalytic converters were recovered, along with 926 sites being visited by enforcement agencies. During the site visits and road checks, police officers searched for stolen metal, catalytic converters and examined records to ensure compliance with current legislation. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, there was a minority who were either non-compliant or were found to be committing other offences resulting in an additional 244 crimes being identified. The effectiveness of the week of activity was highlighted by a reduction of catalytic converter theft of fifty percent in April, so we know this type of partnership working is effective in reducing crime. See the infographic below or click here to open it as a PDF.

In preparation for the week, we trained 400 police officers on the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, Environmental legislation, and what to do and look for when they were involved in enforcement activity. Over 50 police forces took part in the week of action. That level of participation sends a clear message to those involved in metal related criminality that we are back, and we will deal firmly with those who operate outside the law.

However, there is still a great deal more work to be done which includes considering opportunities to amend the existing legislation by including even greater restrictions on cash transactions as this is an area we know drives criminality. We also know the numbers of buyers who operate on social media is increasing, which creates an environment that is difficult to police and carry out enforcement activity; it remains a challenge. In addition, there are still catalytic converter buyers who pay cash and are happy to buy whatever they are presented with regardless of its origin and this needs to be stopped.

The significant increase in those buying catalytic converters on social media and online marketplaces is concerning as there appears to be few if any, checks in place to manage those who trade on these platforms. They need to take a long hard look at who is operating and consider introducing measures to remove the illegal operators who are unregulated and are happy to pay cash and buy anything they are offered. In my opinion, they have a social responsibility to help us reduce catalytic converter theft and it is time for these multinational businesses to step up and deal with these illegal operators.

Inevitably, the price of the precious metals within catalytic converters will drop as we move towards electric vehicles, although this will not happen in the short or medium term. However, could this switch to electric vehicles open a new opportunity for those involved in criminal activity as demand for lithium and other commodities linked to electrification increase in value? I suspect only time will tell.