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Waco thieves targeting catalytic converters in crime fad

Waco thieves targeting catalytic converters in crime fad

catalytic converter

Graves Custom Muffler employee Patrick Scott welds a new catalytic converter onto a vehicle.

Curtis Graves has mixed emotions about the recent dramatic uptick in his business.

While he is pleased his muffler shop at 725 La Salle Ave. in Waco has been getting a steady stream of new customers in the past month, Graves has sympathy pangs for them because many have been victimized by a burgeoning crime wave that has become a nationwide scourge.

Waco police reported this week that they have more than 100 active cases in which thieves have stolen catalytic converters from cars and trucks, and they appear to be becoming more brazen, Waco police spokesperson Garen Bynum said. The thieves, using wrenches or reciprocating saws, can remove a catalytic converter from a vehicle in less than a minute, Bynum said. The prices the exhaust system components fetch at scrap yards provide an unfortunate incentive.

“Catalytic converter thefts are the current fad in the dark theft world, and the cases are growing by the day,” Bynum said. “And they have gotten a lot more bold in how they are doing it. They are doing it in broad daylight now. Several business have gotten hit, and we have had a couple of individuals where they parked in a parking spot at a local business and they ran into the store and their catalytic converter was gone when they came out.”

Graves Custom Muffler mechanics were working on a car Friday that is owned by a woman who works at a firm on Imperial Drive. She parked the car at work at 6 a.m. and went to her car during her break at 8 a.m. She started the car, and it roared like a 747. The catalytic converter had been stolen, Graves said.

“I’ve got two in my parking lot right now that had them stolen,” Graves said. “I have been getting about three to six a day for the last three weeks, all the same. Their catalytic converter was stolen. Yes, business has been good. I hate to get it this way, but it is what it is. I hope they catch those people. Most of them are dope heads who just cut the converters off and go on. They can have it done in 2 to 5 minutes.”

Repairs can run from a low of $500 to $600 on up to $1,200 to $1,400, Graves said. Other estimates are higher.

catalytic converter

R.J. Salinas Masonry employee Fernando Martinez heads to a job site in a company vehicle that had its catalytic converter stolen. Thefts of the exhaust system components have been on the rise in the area.

R.J. Salinas, owner of Salinas Masonry, 2119 La Salle Ave., got a $4,0000 estimate to replace the stolen catalytic converter from a 2012 diesel pickup he uses for his company.

He was not aware he had been victimized until workers started the truck. The noise was unmistakable. Something was wrong, he said.

“You definitely could hear it coming down the road,” Salinas said.

Catalytic converters are designed to act as a line of defense against harmful exhaust system emissions by turning pollutants into harmless gasses, according to Thieves target catalytic converters because they contain precious metals, including platinum, palladium or rhodium. They sell them to scrap yards for an average of $300, Bynum said.

The majority of scrap yards in the area have been cooperative with the police investigation and are doing most everything by the book, including photographing and identifying the people who sell them items, Bynum said.

“They have been working with us really well,” Bynum said. “It is not illegal for them to purchase them if they have been cut off. They are doing everything they are legally required to do. It just makes it difficult because the price makes it such a hot commodity.”

Justin Foster, co-owner of Cornerstone Plumbing, 2101 S. 22nd St., said his business has been burglarized three times in the past 12 months. Last month, thieves cut a catalytic converter off his service truck at 5:45 a.m.

Foster beefed up security at his business, adding cameras and lighting after each incident. He joked that he added so much security lighting that it probably made it easier on the brash thieves because his property was “lit up like Waco stadium.”

Bynum said Waco police searching for a parole violator last week arrested three men at a local hotel. They found four catalytic converters, tools used to remove them and methamphetamine in the room, Bynum said.

In September, investigators from Waco, Woodway and the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office arrested four people in an auto parts theft ring that police said caused an estimated $2000,000 in damage to numerous vehicles whose catalytic converters were removed.

The four have been indicted on various charges, including engaging in organized criminal activity, and are awaiting disposition of their cases.

Bynum compared the theft streak to one that plagued police departments a decade ago when thieves victimized outdoor heating and air-conditioning units for their copper tubing.

“The way that was solved was that police departments across the state contacted their local representatives and said, ‘This is a real problem,’” Bynum said. “They got the law changed that required you to be an HVAC repairman to be able to turn in those parts.

“It is going to take something like that before this will stop. This is not only a statewide problem, this is a nationwide problem right now. The law is going to have to be changed to make it more difficult to get paid for these types of crimes.”

Bynum offered the following tips to help prevent becoming a victim of this crime:

  • Park vehicles in well-lit areas
  • If possible, park near security cameras or close to the front of a store
  • Install motion-sensing lights in driveways
  • Install either a protective plate that covers a vehicle’s catalytic converter or other protection device
  • Etch a vehicle’s VIN number or license plate number on its catalytic converter so if it is stolen, it can be identified. This also helps police link the item to the crime and makes it easier to identify the thieves.

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