Exchange: Phoenix Sees Rise in Catalytic Converter Thefts | Arizona News

By JUSTIN LUM, FOX 10 PHOENIX

PHOENIX (AP) — It’s a specific crime trend sweeping the nation and starting right under your car, and the rise is evident in the Phoenix area over the past two years.

Thieves are targeting catalytic converters, your exhaust emission control device and law enforcement agencies are simply trying to keep up with the increase in theft reports, FOX 10 Phoenix reported.

You may never think of looking under your car until you are a victim of this type of crime. Once your converter is gone, scammers are already trying to exchange it for money or drugs.

Looking at the number of cases law enforcement in Arizona faces during an officer shortage, reports have shown that between Phoenix Metro Police departments, each has experienced peaks in 2021.

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Sliding in a catalytic converter doesn’t take a lot of work. With a power tool like a Sawzall, the flight from start to finish can be done in less than five minutes.

It happened to Leland Gebhardt outside his Phoenix home at 4 a.m.

Even within minutes, the suspects have time to get back into their car before approaching Gebhardt’s Honda Element again, finally shutting down the converter cleanly. The damage cost approximately $4,700.

Fortunately, Gebhardt’s insurance paid for the new converter, which cost $3,000. He says he also needed a new muffler because the thieves cut off the old one and the dealership he bought his car from paid $1,200 for the replacement.

For five weeks, Gebhardt couldn’t drive his car and invested $500 to have a cable cage installed to protect the converter.

“It’s really aggravating that it’s kind of become a trend and it’s caused so much damage to all the victims and I was lucky that my insurance covered it, but there are a lot of people who see their vehicle totaled because of it,” he said.

The roar of Nick Hyatt’s Toyota Tundra can be heard throughout his quiet neighborhood of Goodyear. He has yet to replace his stolen catalytic converter in February 2022.

“I started it and of course it terrified me and my heart skipped a beat because I think the truck is exploding,” he said.

The catalytic converter contains three precious metals. Platinum, which is currently valued at $1,100 per ounce. Palladium, worth nearly $3,000 an ounce. Rhodium, which was recently valued at $22,000 an ounce.

“These are all opportunities for these people to go and completely rape you and suppress these things and make your life very difficult for the foreseeable future,” Hyatt said.

This, of course, drives demand, as there are victims like Hyatt jostling for a new converter.

“I can tell you what, the quote was it was just under $5,000,” Hyatt said.

“Someone broke my catalytic converter from underneath, stole it right out of the parking lot,” Rick van Neck said.

He didn’t expect his converter to be stolen overnight after taking his truck to a shop in Mesa for a routine oil change.

“The way it sounded and the speed it went, it would have been impossible for me to go to work, so I had to borrow cars from friends, family, take it to a mechanic, find the part, paying the money, all sorts of hassles and hopefully getting it done on time, so it doesn’t cost me my job or more money,” van Neck said.

What’s worse than the noise your car makes without the converter is the fact that your car can’t absorb the emissions produced by your engine and convert toxic gases to safe gases without the converter.

In short, it’s bad for the environment. But, the scammers don’t seem to care.

“These criminals are out to steal catalytic converters from people’s front yards, parking lots, secure lots, any time of the day, night or in broad daylight,” the Phoenix police detective said. Adam Popelier.

Stolen goods hit the black market before ending up for scrap. “One of the other things is that we noticed a lot of street vending and changing hands, either for cash or other tangible items that someone might want,” Popelier explained.

“We have seen a wide range over the past two years. He went up to $800 to $1,000 for a catalytic converter and it went straight to the thief who stole it. Right now it looks like the market is between $150 and $300 per catalytic converter,” Popelier said.

He handles almost every stolen converter case in Phoenix. His lieutenant, Wayne Dillon, says the Phoenix Police Department’s Property Crime Bureau is doing its best.

“We have seen such an increase over the past two and a half to three years that it has been staggering for all of my staff and all departments in the valley.” said Dillon.

In 2020, Phoenix police took 72 cases of reported catalytic converter thefts, up from 19 in 2019. In 2021, a boom of over 4,700 cases. Through February 2022, Phoenix police have recorded 690 reports, with some cases possibly including multiple stolen converters.

Meanwhile, the department is about 400 officers short, and some detectives are being moved to patrol in June.

“While we would like to say this will not affect services, realistically we need to understand that when you remove detectives from offices and add them to patrol, it adds cases to other detectives. So, logically, it may take longer to process detective cases,” explained Sgt. Ann Justus, spokeswoman for the police department.

At Glendale, Sgt. Randy Stewart says the police department tracks and aggregates all metal thefts, not differentiating between types. In 2020 it has seen 44 thefts, 2021 has seen 479 thefts and so far in 2022 the department has seen 112 thefts – Glendale PD believe converter thefts account for around 90-95% of those numbers.

In Mesa, police saw an 814% increase in stolen converter cases in 2021 with 631 reports. Chandler police have reported just over 400 cases, up from just 22 in 2020, and already 117 cases this year through February.

Gilbert Police has peaked at 975% over the past two years. Tempe, Peoria, Goodyear, Surprise and Buckeye also saw significant increases in catalytic converter thefts.

Despite the impending reassignment of some Phoenix detectives to patrol duty, Dillon says his team will remain aggressive in holding robbers accountable.

“The biggest part of it is having our caseload and having our investigators continue to send these cases for prosecution and working with our partners at the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office to ensure that all of these cases are charged appropriately because these cases are a felony, they are not a misdemeanor,” Dillion said.

How these cases are ultimately charged is up to the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office.

Assistant County District Attorney Courtney Sullivan said prosecutors must prove that what police are accusing a suspect of doing actually happened.

“I have to be able to have a reasonable likelihood of conviction that this person committed this offence,” she explained. This means, linking the suspect or suspects to the alleged burglary or theft, being able to clearly identify them with security video or footage, taking statements from victims and witnesses to make a legitimate case.

“We need to be able to tie the person to the actual act of removing that catalytic converter, whether it’s through surveillance video, whether it’s through forensics, whether it’s through statements, whether it’s through d other ways to reach that person taking that catalytic converter out of that car,” she said.

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