BRATTLEBORO — Police are keeping an eye out for catalytic converter thefts as they appear to be on the rise again.
Det. Lt. Jeremy Evans of the Brattleboro Police Department said there was a rash of them in the fall of last year then it fell off a little bit.
“But this spring, there’s been quite the resurgence,” he said, describing it is as a significant issue in the region. “Right now, our biggest problem is it happens to such an extent that a lot of the businesses don’t report it anymore.”
After recently catching a converter theft, officers went to speak with car dealerships and businesses. Evans said they found out a lot of thefts were going unreported, which makes the issue more challenging for police.
The department has received 15 reports about converter thefts this year as of Monday, some of which included multiple converters being stolen. Last year, the department had between 20 to 25 reports of converter thefts.
“We know it’s happening far more frequently and would implore the public to call,” Evans said. “The one recent arrest we made was directly related to a victim calling us when the theft was occurring.”
Evans said he suspects it’s probably a small number of people who see the value in stealing the converters. The theft itself can lead to felony charges of stolen property and carry a sentence of more than two years in prison.
Legal safeguards are in place to try and prevent stolen converters from being sold, Evans said. Businesses can lose their business licenses for taking in stolen property and be charged for being in possession of stolen property.
Evans said officers are on the lookout for these thefts, which involve cutting two pipes and can take a couple of minutes to occur.
“It has gotten so out of control that we’ve had several reports of people trying to cut them off during the day,” he said. “Usually it would be an overnight shift. People would roll up to dealerships and cut catalytic converters out.”
Evans said catalytic converters also have been stolen from vehicles parked at two restaurants in town.
Hinsdale, N.H., Police Chief Charles Rataj said his department has an ongoing investigation into converter thefts in conjunction with several other local departments.
“We’ve had ongoing issues with catalytic converters for a long time,” he said.
Like Evans, Rataj recommends keeping vehicles in places that can’t be accessed. Rataj also suggests buying high-quality surveillance cameras, which he said aren’t as expensive as they once were.
“Our night shift has been getting very good about checking businesses and watching places where there’s catalytic converters,” he said. “We’re trying to actively patrol areas that are higher risk.”
High-risk locations are considered to be car dealerships, salvage yards and parking areas.
Asked if the issue was happening nationally, Rataj said it’s something that’s been going on for years and it works in tandem with metal prices. He said when metal prices and commodities are higher, there’s an increase in converter thefts.
“It’s an economy just like anything else,” he said.
A quick online search showed him that selling the equipment could net anywhere from $40 to $100 and $200 for larger trucks. With inflation right now, he anticipates the issue will continue being “a big problem.”
More resources are being devoted to the thefts. The detective division is investigating them and the patrol division is out keeping a closer eye on areas of the community where they’re more prone to happen, Rataj said.
On Monday, BPD received a news release declaring that “catalytic converter theft is on the rise! Thousands are stolen across the country per day.”
“Many lower emission/hybrid vehicles contain higher amounts of precious metals that are currently trading at all time high prices which is the catalyst for the increase in this crime,” the release states. “Some larger vehicles have multiple catalytic converters which make them prey for the theft. The cost to the vehicle’s owner to repair can be several thousand dollars.”
The Catalytic Converter Theft committee of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators in cooperation with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries suggests marking converters by engraving the vehicle identification number or the vehicle’s license plate number with the state/province or using a label that will break into pieces if an attempt is made to remove it, which includes metal etching fluid that applies the same code into the metal and a secure free registration.