WKYT investigation | Stolen catalytic converters soar

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – At the Don Franklin Auto Mall in Lexington, stacks of paper sat on Mark Sawyer’s desk.

“It’s just this month,” he said, flipping through several sheets. But in a sales-based business, papers aren’t contracts or invoices.

These are police reports.

Still, it is smaller than the pile of money this company had to fork out to solve the problem: “Thieves,” Sawyer said in frustration – thieves who stole about four dozen catalytic converters from vehicles on their way. field in the past six months. .

Catalytic converter thefts have skyrocketed across the country during the pandemic, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau:

  • from 108 per month on average in 2018
  • to 282 per month on average in 2019
  • to 1,203 per month on average in 2020.

In December, the last month for which NICB data is readily available, more than 2,000 catalytic converters were reported stolen across the country.

[LEARN MORE | How a catalytic converter works]

Lexington Police Detective Cody McMillen has been busy investigating a number of catalytic converter thefts across town during the same period.

“It was around November or December 2020 when I started to see repeated inquiries about catalytic converters coming to my desk,” he said, “to the point where there is obviously a trend, a pattern is emerging. develops here.

The model really started to take off as the values ​​of the precious metals inside the catalytic converters – platinum, palladium and rhodium – also started to rise.

“It’s an opportunistic crime,” David Glawe, president and CEO of NICB, said in a press release. “There is a clear link between times of crisis, limited resources and the disruption in the supply chain that drives investors to these precious metals.”

In recent weeks, according to Currency exchange, the prices per ounce of these metals are at or near their peaks:

“I think until the broader issues of supply and demand are resolved,” Detective McMilllen said, “I think there will always be this need or willingness to steal converters for them. metals inside. “

A Lexington Ordinance and State Law require proof of ownership before a junkyard or recycler accepts a catalytic converter. This is why the police say that the thieves go elsewhere to sell them.

Police say it starts with the thief, who removes the catalytic converter often using a reciprocating saw. They find a second-hand buyer who buys the converter at a discounted rate and then sells it, likely outside of Kentucky, according to police, for the converter’s full value.

It is not difficult to see that a warm market exists for this. Lots or individual converters can be found for sale on Facebook Marketplace, and some entire websites even publish price lists of specific catalytic converters they are looking for, with the promise of sending a quote for yours within minutes.

“I think the only way to get to the end of it is for someone to figure out how to make a catalytic converter that doesn’t cost too much,” said Sawyer, director of stationary operations for the Don Franklin Automotive Group. “So I hope the value would be depreciated so much that it would be pointless to steal.”

[MORE: WKYT Investigates]

Because it’s been open season for months now.

Sawyer says his business is $ 150,000: more than half of that amount for security upgrades like better cameras (human detection and license plate capture), brighter lights, and new fences around. from the back ground; the remainder for repairs to vehicles whose catalytic converters have been stolen.

“It’s my obsession for the past three months,” Sawyer said Garrett Wymer of WKYT. “It’s not a crime for me. This is not a hundred dollar theft. It costs every dealership tens of thousands of dollars, this epidemic that continues with it.

But this doesn’t just happen in parking lots, parking lots or driveways. Sawyer says thieves stole six catalytic converters from a transporter full of brand new pickup trucks that hadn’t even arrived at the dealership yet.

All of this makes it even more difficult for car dealers to keep an inventory of their lots.

The actions Sawyer took at the dealership seemed to be helping, he said. They even installed trackers on parts of the cars that were on their land.

“Some of these guys might already be caught and not know they’re caught,” Sawyer said.

Lexington Police have made arrests in connection with thefts of catalytic converters across the city, which they say often leads to a drop in crime before it starts to pick up again.

How to protect your car

Police say there are a few red flags to listen to or watch out for in your neighborhood, including:

  • Suspicious person walking with backpack or reciprocating saw at odd hours
  • Hear a squeaking noise in the middle of the night

Investigators say reporting even small things that seem out of place could give them the break they need to resolve multiple catalytic converter cases.

A number of different tactics have been reported across the country to try to stop someone from stealing your catalytic converter:

Police say one of the difficulties investigating these crimes is connecting a specific stolen catalytic converter to a specific vehicle, but, as Sawyer explained, the problem with the etching method (or even with the paint ) is that it is carried out outside the converter. All the thief really needs are the materials inside – the outside can be thrown away. However, it could alert a junkyard that the converter has been stolen.

Experts say the best way may be to make theft more difficult for the thief – like adding rebar that the California mechanic offers his customers, welding the converter to the car’s chassis or with commercially manufactured devices, such as Cat clip, which can be purchased and act as a cage around the converter.

Lexington Police Detective McMillen said he has yet to see a case of theft by someone using a cage.

That, along with the tips below from the NICB, could save you from becoming the next victim.

the NICB recommends vehicle owners:

  • Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can provide a level of security against theft.
  • Park vehicles in the park in a closed and secure area that is well lit, locked and in alarm.
  • Park personal vehicles in a garage. If this is not possible and vehicles must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion-sensing security lights. While the lights don’t provide complete security, it can make some thieves think twice, forcing them to leave the area and your vehicle intact.
  • Call local law enforcement and your insurer if you are the victim of catalytic converter theft.

Copyright 2021 WKYT. All rights reserved.

About Harold Fergus

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