Area police agencies investigate catalytic converter thefts

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun
Frontenac resident Jason Hipfl spoke at this week's city council meeting, asking city officials what they're doing to stop catalytic converter thefts.

FRONTENAC, Kan. — As has been the case in Pittsburg in recent months, as well as nationwide, thefts of catalytic converters have been increasing in Frontenac lately. Police say they are on the case, however, and are working with other area law enforcement agencies to catch the thieves. 

“It’s been rampant, people stealing stuff from, you know, everybody around town,” local resident Jason Hipfl said at Tuesday’s Frontenac City Council meeting, where he spoke during citizens’ comments to ask city officials what they’re doing about a recent spike in the number of catalytic converter thefts. 

While Hipfl has had other items stolen too, he said he has had four or five catalytic converters stolen from his vehicles in recent months. Thieves target catalytic converters because they contain precious metals and can be sold for a relatively high amount of money for how easy they are to steal. 

“It’s across the country,” Hipfl said. “I've got a friend that has a car lot up in Kansas City and they don’t put the catalytic converters on until you buy the car.” 

In response to Hipfl’s concerns, Police Chief Cody Milligan said his department is aware of the problem, and just launched its first “saturation patrol” on Tuesday in response to the thefts. 

“So we’re on that,” he said. When asked what a saturation patrol involves, Milligan said his department is “putting more officers on the street to try and find these stolen items and locate these guys that are doing it.” 

Catalytic converter thefts are not limited to a certain time of day or night, he said. Asked by Hipfl whether Frontenac police would be conducting saturation patrols at night as well during the day, Milligan said that was the next step in the department’s plan. 

In Frontenac, police say, there have been about a half dozen catalytic converter thefts reported in the last three months. In Pittsburg, meanwhile, the problem appears to be even worse, with 52 thefts in the first six months of 2021 compared to 12 in the last six months of 2020. 

“Currently in Pittsburg, larger passenger vans, buses, super duty trucks, and recreational vehicles are the primary targets due to their high precious metal content; however, all vehicles should be considered a potential target,” the Pittsburg Police Department said in a press release Wednesday. 

“Businesses with buses, work trucks or passenger vans have unfortunately fallen victim to these thefts as well as recreational vehicles that are stored and not often checked on. Prosecution in these types of cases can be difficult due to little identification differing stolen converters from others.” 

To reduce the risk of catalytic converter thefts, the Pittsburg Police Department recommends parking in well-lit areas, in view of security cameras, and near the roadway in parking lots, where routine traffic can deter theft. Other tips include blocking the undercarriage of your vehicle to make it harder to get to the catalytic converter, calibrating vehicle alarms to go off when vibration is detected, and etching a unique ID number on your catalytic converter and writing it down in case the converter is later stolen. 

Kirk Darrow, owner of Darrow’s Automotive, came to Tuesday’s Frontenac City Council meeting to ask about an unrelated matter, but also joined the discussion of recent catalytic converter thefts and the difficulty of catching the thieves. 

“They come in at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning and they’ve got stuff over their face,” he said. “The biggest clue if they’re stealing catalytic converters is they wear backpacks.” 

Councilman Joe Martin, meanwhile, asked Milligan if surveillance camera footage is ever helpful in identifying the thieves. 

“Anytime we run across this, my guys, we go and check cameras,” Milligan said. “I mean sometimes it works but most of the time people set parameters where it’s just on their property alone, so it is what it is.” 

Despite the challenges of catching catalytic converter thieves, however, Frontenac police say they have been working with other local law enforcement agencies including the Pittsburg PD and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, and they have some leads on potential suspects that they are following up on.