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Police: Increase in catalytic converter thefts across metro-Richmond

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Law enforcement agencies are reporting an uptick in the number of catalytic converter thefts across the metro-Richmond area.

The Hanover County Sheriff’s Office issuing an alert suggesting all businesses, including churches and daycares, park their vehicles in well-lit areas and by surveillance cameras, if possible.

#CrimeAlert Due to the larcenies of catalytic converters in the metro area, to include Hanover County, we would like to...

Posted by Hanover County Sheriff's Office on Friday, May 28, 2021

“Leave at least one, if not several, parking spaces between each of the vehicles if there are more than one left overnight,” the social media post said. “By leaving parking spaces between the motor vehicles it provides better surveillance by passerby’s and makes the thieves have to cover more space between vehicles thereby taking more time as well as providing more of an opportunity to be seen.”

This alert comes after an increase in the number of catalytic converter thefts in the area.

Catalytic converters neutralize about 90% of toxic gases in the engine exhaust, which is why a vast majority of cars have them.

A private school in the metro area had converters stolen from buses not once, but twice in the last seven months.

“It’s surprising, troubling and frustrating to say the least,” the administrator said.

This administrator wished to remain anonymous out of concern the school would be targeted yet again. In October, staff was about to gas up the bus when they made the unfortunate discovery.

“It became clear that the catalytic converter had been taken from the bus because of the noise that was created when you turned the engine over,” he said.

“It’s going to sound like a race car,” said Henrico Sgt. Brandon Matthews, who oversees the auto-theft unit. “It’s not going to actually flow through the muffler where it quiets the car. So they’ll know immediately once it’s been done.”

Catalytic Converter PSA

If it sounds like Denny Hamlin is in your driveway when you turn your car on, please give us a call! Let's stop catalytic converter thefts together.

Posted by Henrico County Police on Saturday, May 1, 2021

These reports are becoming all too common for Matthews.

From August 2020 through May 2021, Henrico police have taken more than 266 reports of catalytic converter thefts; more than 40 reports taken in May 2021.

“It grows a few a day,” Matthews said.

“It is surprising to a certain extent, except that we were affected by it ourselves multiple times,” the school administrator said.

That same private school hit again in late December/early January. This time, two more catalytic converters sawed off their buses.

“It was several thousand dollars to repair the buses after the converters were stolen,” he said.

According to police, these thieves try to get money for the items.

“To sell them, they’re getting anywhere from $300 to $1,200 when they sell them,” Matthews said.

That money is mainly for those precious metals inside the converter, Matthews added.

A quick search on marketplace apps shows a large number for sale across the metro area, but police said that is not a major issue.

“Those are mainly older catalytic converters that look like they came off of someone’s junk car,” Matthews said. “The amount that are stolen versus the amount we see on there are not the same.”

However, investigators do check other local internet websites where catalytic converters are being sold.

“More than likely, they’re getting shipped out of state, out of country,” Matthews added.

Additionally, scrap metal recycling centers are required by law to take note of the person trying to sell the piece.

However, if you’re a victim of the crime, you could end up spending anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to replace the part.

That cost leaving the private school tightening its already tight budget.

“It’s just frustrating someone would target a school in particular,” the administrator said.

Since these thefts, the school has put up more security measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Meanwhile, police ask you to call them if:

  1. If you see someone crawling underneath a car, most of the time with a saw, particularly at night.
  2. When you start your vehicle, and the exhaust is making a usually loud noise. If this happens, please turn your car off and call the police.

Additionally, police said if this has happened to you, call as soon as possible in an effort for officers to collect what evidence may be left behind.

“A lot of times if they’ve cut with a Sawzall and left the blade, if we can get the blade and process it for fingerprints and DNA we can do that,” Matthews said. “It helps when it’s not been touched by a lot of people.”

Anyone with information regarding this offense is asked to contact Henrico Police at (804) 501-5000 or Crime Stoppers (804) 780-1000. Citizens can also text Crime Stoppers at 274637, using the keyword “ITip” followed by your tip. Both Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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