Big spike in thefts of catalytic converters is hitting Dallas vehicle owners
Catalytic converter theft is not a new phenomenon, but there's a spike across the U.S. that's hitting Dallas-Fort Worth hard, including a large seizure in Carrollton and one theft caught on video in which the thief was confronted by the vehicle owner.
These anti-pollution devices use metals such as rhodium whose value has increased dramatically in the past few years. Particularly since the pandemic, thefts have skyrocketed across the U.S.: According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the number of thefts grew from 1,298 in 2018 to more than 52,000 in 2021, and according to AAA, Texas is a hot spot.
In 2021, Texas enacted legislation requiring that scrap metal buyers maintain records of purchases including proof of ownership, vehicle identification numbers, the seller's home address and driver's license numbers. Law enforcement professionals say that the law quelled thefts temporarily, only for about a month, before they returned with a vengeance.
Big bust in Carrollton
In late July, Carrollton Police Department detectives raided storage units thought to be used by a large North Texas fencing operation and recovered a big cache of stolen catalytic converters.
"Our detectives weren't surprised to also find rebar and chains attached to some of them," they posted on Facebook. "That was someone's attempt to protect their catalytic converter from theft, but the thieves cut right through it."
According to Jolene DeVito, Police Information Manager for the City of Carrollton, the seizure was the result of an investigation that started back in May.
"Fast forward to last week, they ran a search warrant on the house they believed was the fencing operation and then several storage units in the Rowlett/Rockwall area," DeVito says.
They recovered about 200 converters.
"We now have to prove that these suspects knew they were buying stolen converters," she says. "And this is just one fencing operation. There are more all over. Harris County had a bust the week before last that netted even more converters."
In late July, investigators in Houston seized 477 catalytic converters in a huge raid, resulting from an investigation into the death of a police Deputy Darren Almendarez, who was shot while trying to stop thieves from taking the catalytic converter from his own personal vehicle.
"Criminals steal them and sell them to a fencing operation which has figured out how to recycle them outside the law so they end up with the precious metals," DeVito says. "Somebody somewhere is melting them down. It may not even be in Texas."
On August 4, Dallas Design District resident and photographer Clay Hayner spotted an attempted theft of the catalytic converter on his van parked outside. He watched on his live surveillance camera as a suspect carrying tools crawled under his van. NBC 5 has the video.
Hayner, who has already had two catalytic converters stolen, ran out and confronted the suspect, who was still under the car, then bashed him with a camera stand. The suspect got away.
White Rock Lake
According to the White Rock Lake Task Force, a local advocacy group, a catalytic converter was stolen from a visitor's car on August 4 while it was parked across from the Big Thicket near the pier.
"Working on cars in the park used to be pretty common," the Task Force noted. "If someone has their hood up, they are working on their car. If someone is slithering under the front end of a car, they are likely not working on it, but stealing catalytic converters. Please call 911 immediately if you see suspicious behavior."
The Richardson Police Department issued an alert that thefts are on the rise, warning that thefts occur quickly and can happen in broad daylight, as thieves armed with cordless cutting tools pull up to a parked car, slide under and cut off the converter.
Their steps to prevent theft include:
- Park close to entrances for visibility
- Paint/etch the converter to deter resale
- Watch out for someone working under a vehicle in a parking lot
- In parking lots, listen for sounds of drilling, cutting or grinding metal
Toyotas are the favorite make, especially the Tundra which account for 40 percent of thefts, followed by the Toyota Tacoma with 17 percent, and the Mitsubishi Outlander with 10 percent.
Other top targets include the Toyota Sequoia, Prius, Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Express, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, and Honda CR-V.