POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Catalytic converter theft is a major problem across the country, including right here in the Tampa Bay area.

In Polk County, several businesses have been hit, and now the sheriff is cracking down.

The team at R & R Heating & Cooling has been quite busy these days with the scorching temperatures.

“We service residential equipment, some commercial equipment, and just keep people cool,” said James Pilkenton, HVAC Service Sales Technician for R & R Heating & Cooling.

Their trucks are a big part of the small business’s operation. “They’re pretty important. If we can’t get to a job site, then my customers start to get a little upset. Calling, asking where are you at?” Pilkenton said.

In April, when workers discovered the catalytic converters were stolen from two of their trucks, it was a blow to their bottom line.

“One of them was off of one of our main install trucks. So, both of those trucks were down for that entire day. The other one was down for two days,” Pilkenton said.

There has been a rise in thieves targeting business yards in Polk County, stealing catalytic converters from vehicles parked outside.

In 2020 there were 34 reports of catalytic converter thefts in Polk County. In 2022 that number spiked to 252.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Toyota Tundra and Tacoma trucks are the vehicles being targeted most. It can cost drivers anywhere between $2,000 to $4,000 to replace a stolen catalytic converter.

“We’ve got to work real hard to stop this because the average person doesn’t have $3,000 laying around to replace the catalytic converter,” said Judd.

The catalytic converter contains precious metals and thieves are hoping to cash in.

A new Florida law, SB 306, makes it a third-degree felony to buy, possess, sell, or install a stolen catalytic converter. It’s a second-degree felony to knowingly import, manufacture or purchase a fake converter as well.

The law also requires recycling plants and scrap yards to hold on to a converter for 10 days after purchase before processing or removing materials from the parts.

“We want information leading to those stealing, those that are in possession of a catalytic converter that has been cut off because if you have one and you don’t have the proper documentation, it’s a felony of the third degree,” said Judd.

Crime Stoppers is offering up to $3,000 for information that can help get these catalytic converter thieves off the street.

Contact Heartland Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-226 TIPS (8477).

To help prevent becoming a victim of this crime, you should park in a garage or a well-lit area or invest in a catalytic converter anti-theft device.

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