Crime, News

Thieves targeting catalytic converters

By Edwin Folven, 5/08/2014

At least 34 have been stolen since Jan. 1 from mostly Toyotas and Hondas

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Authorities are warning motorists about a series of thefts where catalytic converters are being stolen from Toyota trucks and SUVs, as well as Honda Elements.

Det. Carmine Sasso, with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division, said catalytic converters have been stolen from 34 parked vehicles since Jan. 1. Police believe the thieves are stealing the engine components to sell for scrap, or may be selling them as after-market parts. Catalytic converters contain traces of precious metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold that can be separated and reused, he added.

“This is not just a problem in the Wilshire area; it’s citywide,” Sasso said. “This is also a big thing in Europe. The U.K. is getting hit hard.”

Catalytic converters are part of an engine’s exhaust emissions system, and were introduced in 1975 to comply with federal standards for reducing pollution. Thieves are targeting late model Toyotas and Hondas because the vehicles have ground clearance to get underneath, and the catalytic converters are easily accessible, Sasso said. Thieves sometimes unbolt the converters, or use an electric saw to cut them off. Replacement of a catalytic converter can be very costly.

“As a unit, catalytic converters can run about $1,000, but [thieves] are willing to sell them for $100 or $500, or whatever they can get on the street,” Sasso said. “The theory we have is there is a middleman along the way. We are still trying to determine … whether this is some kind of organization.”

Sasso said the LAPD has detectives who routinely visit recycling centers and scrap yards looking for stolen items, but so far no leads have come from the searches. It takes a significant level of expertise to separate the precious metals from the interior of a catalytic converter, he added.

The thefts are primarily occurring between 1 and 5 a.m., when the vehicles are parked on the street. Approximately half of the thefts have occurred in the neighborhoods between Rimpau Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, and Wilshire and Venice boulevards. Seven of the thefts have occurred north of Melrose Avenue, between Fairfax and La Brea avenues, while the others are scattered throughout the Wilshire community, Sasso said.

“[It takes] less than a minute,” he added. “They get a battery-operated saw and cut right through the metal. One witness said they heard something that sounded like an electric drill.”

Detectives have few leads to go on, and no description of the thieves was available. Sasso said he hopes to alert people who own Toyotas and Hondas so they will take preventative measures.

He recommended that people use vehicle alarms, and park in well-illuminated locations. Locking devices can also be purchased that prevent the catalytic converter from being easily removed.

“There are things they can do like park the vehicle in the driveway or garage, away from the street,” Sasso said. “It’s an ongoing problem, but people can take steps to prevent it.”

Patrol officers in the Wilshire Division have been notified about the incidents and are watching for related suspicious activity. Anyone with information is asked to call detectives with the Wilshire Division’s Auto Burglary and Theft Unit at (213)922-8205.

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