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Police report rise in catalytic converter thefts

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Local police are trying to get a handle on an unprecedented increase in catalytic converter thefts over recent months, as thieves nationwide are stealing the emissions-control car part for their precious metals at alarming levels.

ON THE RISE Catalytic converters are being stolen at alarming levels in SLO County. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SLO POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Image Courtesy Of The SLO Police Department
  • ON THE RISE Catalytic converters are being stolen at alarming levels in SLO County.

In San Luis Obispo, citizens have reported 73 stolen converters since Jan. 1, or almost one per day, according to the SLO Police Department. Thefts are occuring day and night, all across the city, and mostly in residential neighborhoods, police said. Six were stolen the week of March 15—all from Toyota Priuses.

"It's spread out all over," SLO Police Lt. Robert Cudworth told New Times. "The current numbers are way higher than anything that we've seen recently."

The problem isn't contained to SLO. Converters dissappeared from six school vans in a Paso Robles Joint Unified School District vehicle yard in early March. Morro Bay police issued an alert in February about a local uptick. SLO County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Tony Cipolla said unincorproated communities have also been hit hard in recent months.

According to national news reports, catalytic converter theft is surging due to the part's high-valued precious metals, like palladium and rhodium. The global push to lower vehicle emmissions—which catalytic converters help do—is also driving up their value to record levels.

Converters are an easy target for theft due to their exposed location under vehicles, and police say theives are using hand tools like reciprocating saws to quickly remove the part.

Cudworth encouraged residents to keep an eye and ear out for suspicious activity near parked cars to help catch the theives. Such an alert citizen led to three arrests in February.

"Somebody heard something that didn't sound quite right, called us, officers saw the car leaving Foothill and California, did a traffic stop, and arrested three people," Cudworth said. "They actually had the [allegedly stolen] catalytic converters in the car."

Replacing a stolen converter can cost car owners several thousand dollars depending on the vehicle. Police are encouraging locals to park their cars in garages whenever possible and consider installing protective plates around their converter or setting up motion-sensor alarms.

Cudworth added that raising more awareness about the problem could help stave off thefts, too.

"The more people are aware of it, the more proactive they are, the better off we'll be," he said. "Hopefully it'll drive the thieves out of the area." Δ

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