CAT Burglars: Catalytic Converter Thefts Rise in Baltimore County and Nation | Regional

Across the country, in big cities, small towns and rural swaths, thieves are targeting auto parts, primarily focusing on catalytic converters.

Catalytic devices convert pollutants from motor vehicle engines into less toxic emissions. They are stolen and sold to metal recyclers or, in some cases, body shops in need of auto parts.

Converters, also known as CATs, can fetch between $50 and $1,400, according to police departments and insurance agencies across the country.

“They target the metals in the mufflers that they can sell to a scrap metal dealer, for around $200 to $400. They work fast and can steal the item in less than two minutes. We didn’t catch any of the suspects, but we believe they are a group of travelers,” said Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department in southern Oregon.

The city of more than 85,000 people has seen 37 catalytic converter thefts in 2021 and nine so far this year, Budreau said.

CAT burglars are on the rise stealing catalytic converters from dealerships, businesses and homes in cities and areas ranging from Miami, Baltimore and the Washington DC area to parts of Delaware and the eastern seaboard of Maryland as well than in Bend, Oregon, Chicago and Fresno, California. .

A suspected armed converter thief was fatally shot by police in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston, in a suspected burglary by a crew at a loft on Thursday, May 5. Other suspects escaped during the shooting.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks crimes reported to insurance companies, the number of reported catalytic converter thefts has risen from about 1,300 in 2018 to more than 52,000 in 2021.

Higher metal costs due to inflation can help recyclers earn more money for thieves. Shortages of auto parts due to the effects of the pandemic and supply chain issues could lead to illegal demand for converters, law enforcement officials said. COVID shutdowns in China, inflation in the United States and unpredictable demand have hampered automotive supply chains around the world, including for parts.

Las Vegas police report that experienced teams can strip CATs quickly with Ford and Chevrolet pickup trucks, Honda Accords, Jeep Patriots and Ford Econoline vans among the top targets.

As with other thieving rings, police say some of the catalytic converter scammers are mobile and will move operations from state to state.

“We believe the suspects are coming from out of town and taking the converters out of state. Converters are targeted due to the current prices of precious metals contained in converters, including platinum, rhodium, and palladium. Unscrupulous recycling centers will pay $50 to $250 per converter,” said Todd Kleisner, deputy police chief in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Kleisner has seen commercial trucks as well as hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius targeted by thieves typically seeking cash from metal recycling. Stolen hybrid converters can fetch up to $1,400 on the underground market, according to other police and insurance agencies.

US and NATO sanctions against Russia (and its ally Belarus) following the invasion of Ukraine have reduced the supply of raw materials (including precious metals found in catalytic converters) as well as auto parts worldwide.

“There have been rumors of converters being sent overseas due to raw material shortages there,” Kleisner said.

The Cheyenne Police Department in Wyoming has seen 116 converter thefts in 2021 and 19 so far this year. Thieves can target commercial and personal vehicles. They can also be lightning fast.

“This criminal activity can take place day or night. Thieves will crawl under the vehicle and cut out the converter with a saw – some have become so good at removing them that it can be done in minutes,” said Detective Office Lt. Adam DeBall of the Cheyenne PD. “In most cases, you won’t know it happened until you start your car. When you press the accelerator pedal, you may hear a loud noise.

Law enforcement in Wyoming, Oregon and other states are also working with recycling centers to crack down on theft rings, but are making a limited number of arrests. Similar efforts have already been undertaken with copper thefts, with varying degrees of success.

Replacing a stolen catalytic converter isn’t cheap either. According to the NICB and the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, replacing emissions equipment can cost between $1,000 and $3,000.

Police in Yonkers, New York have seen an increase in converter thefts with rings from the Bronx and other boroughs in nearby New York City.

Dean Politopouous, public information officer for the Yonkers Police Department, said law enforcement in the area is trying to raise awareness of auto parts thefts targeting everywhere from car dealerships and commercial parking lots to driveways. residential.

Politopouous said thieves can get away with a converter in two minutes and can make “several hundred dollars”.

“Easy money,” Politopouous said of the motives for the robberies, adding police concerns about reducing pretrial detentions for defendants facing other criminal charges.

In the Northeast, thieves have targeted Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas. Other parts of the country have seen CAT thieves go after hybrids as well as commercial trucks and vans.

“If you hear power or cutting tools outside at night, it’s probably a CAT theft and they should notify the local police,” Politopouous said.

The police and car insurance companies have a variety of other tips for avoiding CAT. These include buying an anti-theft device, welding the CAT to the wartime lower frame, etching the car’s VIN number or your license plate number on the converter, installing movement as well as parking in a secure and well-lit area.

The rise of CAT thefts has also spawned a cottage industry of anti-theft products that auto dealers, fleet owners and consumers can use to lock out emissions devices.

Various companies offer locking devices aimed at discouraging catalytic scammers. Some require installation by an auto mechanic.

• CAT Clamp, based in Toledo, Ohio, offers lockable conversion cages that range in price from $181 to $920.

• Cat Security near Sacramento offers anti-theft shields for Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Chevrolet vehicles between $190 and $500.

• Another California company, MillerCat, based in Santa-Clara, sells a line of anti-theft locking devices for hybrids and popular models such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Prius between $75 and $570.

In Texas, a company called Converter Guard offers an etching package and will place a car’s CAT in a national database for $249. If the CAT is stolen, the company agrees to pay up to $2,500 in replacement costs.

New York State officials have also launched a new burning and registration effort with car dealerships with law enforcement (including the New York City Police Department) to tag and track converters. stolen. Parts of New York have seen a 200% increase in emissions control device thefts.

“The sharp rise in the number of stolen catalytic converters across the country is forcing police and lawmakers to look for a way to curb thefts,” said Nichole Soriano, regional manager of Travelers Insurance Co. and president of New York Anti Car Theft. and Fraud Association during the May 6 announcement of the tagging effort.

Other police jurisdictions across the United States report a variety of intensity when it comes to the volume of CAT thefts.

The Klamath County Sheriff’s Office in southern Oregon said the rural county occasionally sees catalytic robberies, but the mostly rural county hasn’t seen any recent spikes, the spokesperson said. Brandon Fowler.

In Florida, the city of Sarasota recorded 5 converter thefts last year and one reported theft this year, according to the city’s police department. The city of Florida has more than 57,000 inhabitants.

Statewide, Fort Lauderdale police have reported 45 CAT thefts so far this year, according to the city’s police department crime statistics.

About Melanie Tweed

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