Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – It’s a crime that can take minutes, leave your vehicle running poorly, harm the environment and cost thousands to replace the stolen part.
The theft of catalytic converters has seen an increase in Santa Fe and other communities, said Lt. David Webb of the Santa Fe Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Section.
The converter “is a device that looks like a small muffler along with the exhaust system. It is designed to convert the environmentally hazardous exhaust emitted by an engine into less harmful gasses,” the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website explains.
“Catalytic converter thefts have seen a significant increase across the country since March of 2020, the start of the global pandemic,” the Crime Bureau said.
In October, the department started to note the increase in thefts with about 53 reported taken in the city that month and in November, through the 22nd, another 20 had been swiped, Webb said in a Wednesday interview. He said the Albuquerque Police Department and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office have also seen increased converter thefts.
“It’s not isolated to Santa Fe, it’s an opportunistic crime. When the opportunity arises, it’s very quick, it’s swift, it’s fast and it seems to be plaguing us in New Mexico all over the place,” Webb said. “Essentially what happens is the converter is stolen and the precious metals that are inside of that converter are extracted and taken to a scrap yard to be converted to cash.”
While thieves can net from $50 up to $800 for a converter, “the effect it has on the victim is quite more costly,” Webb said. “To repair a vehicle from having its cat stolen, it can cost the victim upwards of $2,000 to $3,000 to have it fixed and replaced.”
It’s a crime that can often involve thieves working together.
“Often times thieves can take these within less than two minutes either by removing bolts or cutting it off with a portable saw or cutting wheel,” Webb said.
“The suspects operate in teams, they have a lookout, they have a person who operates a jack depending on the height of the vehicle, so they can raise it and then they have the third person that goes underneath the car, cuts off the catalytic converter and leaves,” the lieutenant said.
Although brands such as Dodge or Chevrolet can also be involved, local thieves favor another make. “Within Santa Fe the brand or make Toyota (Prius) seems to be the targeted vehicle,” according to Webb. “Because it’s a hybrid and has a large amount of expensive materials inside that converter.”
Catalytic converters contain valuable metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium.
Public vigilance and awareness can help thwart potential theft. “Our department has tried to advise the public to be aware, call us if they see any suspicious activity in parking lots …apartment complexes,” Webb said.
The department’s Facebook page and social media account explains what the converter is, how they are stolen and what it looks like. The public can also take a proactive approach, including spray painting the converter in high heat fluorescent paint to make it stand out, etching your VIN number on the converter and using cables and metal plates to prevent thefts.
The department has contacted local scrap yards to advise them that “if they see one (a converter) etched with a VIN number or painted in a fluorescent color” to contact police, Webb said.
Catalytic converter thefts can be reported to the department at 505-428-3710.