Easy access, rare metals entice thieves
By Rick Curl
Dunn Daily Record
Catalytic converters are a required part of the automobile you drive everyday. It’s used to reduce toxic emissions from a car or truck’s exhaust system — it’s also used to pad the pockets of thieves.
Thanks to its easy access and the inclusion of precious metals such as rhodium as part of the converter’s internal parts, the devices are now being targeted almost daily.
“This is a popular crime among criminals because the parts contain platinum and rhodium, which are rare metals that can be sold for a good profit at scrap yards,” Dunn Police Maj. Cary Jackson said. “In addition, the thefts can be committed in a matter of minutes and they are not easy to detect.”
She said most people won’t even realize they’ve been victimized until after their vehicle begins to sound different.
The number of thefts are increasing throughout the area. Sampson and Johnston counties have both joined Harnett and it’s municipalities in trying to thwart the efforts of thieves.
In the last six months, Sampson County has seen a total of 56 reported larcenies of catalytic converters and the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office has reported two arrests, according to Lt. Marcus Smith.
He said while there is reason to believe the two arrests are connected to all 56 thefts, the investigation is ongoing.
“This is becoming a very common issue, not just for Sampson County, but for jurisdictions nationwide,” Smith said. “We encourage citizens to be vigilant and be on the look out for anyone or anything suspicious and report it immediately, don’t wait. Citizens and businesses should try to park their vehicles in secure and/or well lit areas to help deter these criminals from targeting their vehicles.”
The most common way thieves pull off the crimes is directly tied to how easy it is to take a catalytic converter from your car’s exhaust system.
While some vehicles have bolt-on converters, most are welded into the system near the exhaust pipe and muffler.
The most common — and seemingly the fastest and most efficient — way to remove the converters is by use of a reciprocal saw. They are light enough to carry without a lot of effort, they can be used in tight spaces and they are readily available at stores and tool outlets.
An especially enticing target are businesses with fleets of vehicles. One such incident took place in Dunn recently when thieves targeted a local heating and air conditioning company.
A worker from the business arrived at 4 a.m. to find three of the company’s vehicles were minus a catalytic converter. The worker and police watched surveillance video that showed a suspect crawling under a fence and walking to one of the trucks.
Fortunately for the company, the thief was caught shortly after the report was made to police. Police found three converters hidden under the bed of his pickup truck.
A couple of months earlier another local business reported the theft of not only two converters, but a saw with a battery and extra blades as well. All the more reason to suspect many of the thefts could be related to others, there seems to be no particular pattern — at least to the untrained eye — for now.
“Our patrol units did an outstanding job recovering catalytic converters stolen from the two businesses,” Jackson said. “The criminals in these cases often target businesses such as car dealerships or businesses with a fleet of delivery vehicles or trucks (where) they can hit multiple vehicles at one stop.”
Jackson and her colleagues elsewhere said most local law enforcement agencies are working together to try and put an end to what is becoming a very lucrative crime. Johnston County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jeff Caldwell explains what thieves are looking forward to after they pull off a converter and head to the scrap yard.
“This has become a very profitable crime as converters typically bring $300 to $1,000 currently,” Caldwell said. “In months past, the amounts have been greater.”
The number of thefts vary from town to town. Benson seems to be the least affected — knock on wood — with just six reports since May 9 of this year. Benson Chief of Police Greg Percy said there was an additional attempt, but a proactive homeowner thwarted the attempt and the suspects ran off.
“Thus far we have no suspect information,” Percy said. “And no suspect is available and no arrests have been made and no items have been recovered.”
Then there are the larger numbers in other towns. Since July of this year, Dunn has received 40 reports of catalytic converter theft with many investigations still ongoing.
“Our Criminal Investigations Division still has open investigations on many cases,” Jackson said. “They work with agencies in surrounding jurisdictions to solve many of these cases because, like many other crimes, we are dealing with the same suspects.”
Regardless of where you live or what business you own, you are susceptible to being a victim, but there are things law enforcement says you can do to reduce the chances you and your vehicle become targets.
It’s recommended businesses install a video surveillance system and maintain the system in good working order. Owners of all vehicles are encouraged to use owner applied numbers, so the property will be easy to identify if it is presented for sale, Jackson said.