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Catalytic converter thefts on the rise in Pittsburg

Jonathan Riley

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Pittsburg Police Department announced this week that it is seeing an increase in catalytic converters being stolen from vehicle exhaust systems.

Thieves go after catalytic converters because they contain precious metals like platinum, palladium or rhodium, the department said in a press release. They can remove a vehicle’s catalytic converter in just a minute or two using a battery-powered saw.

Pittsburg is not the only city nationwide or in Kansas to see an increase in catalytic converter thefts recently. In Wichita, there were reportedly 201 stolen in 2019 — almost ten times as many as the year before. That number more than doubled again in 2020, when more than 500 were reportedly stolen in Wichita. Thefts are also reportedly on the rise in the Kansas City area.

In Topeka, thieves have apparently been targeting vehicles used for transporting senior citizens, similar to large cities in nearby states, such as Omaha and St. Louis, where daycare vans and buses used to transport disabled people have reportedly been targeted.

“Police say an increase in value of the metals found within catalytic converters has driven this problem back to the forefront,” according to Fox4 Kansas City. “Detectives also say they’ve noticed a rise in property crimes since the pandemic struck as desperate people are sometimes resorting to theft.”

Nationwide, the exact number of catalytic converter thefts is hard to pin down.

“The National Insurance Crime Bureau, the prime data source for vehicle thefts reported to insurance companies, stopped tracking converter thefts after 2015,” according to Car and Driver. “In that year, the NICB wrote that nearly 4000 catalytic converters were reported stolen nationwide—a 23 percent increase since 2008—but that the real number was ‘much higher.’”

Ford passenger vans, buses, and Super Duty trucks are currently the main vehicles being targeted in Pittsburg because of the high precious metal content of their catalytic converters, the PPD release said. Businesses that have these types of vehicles have been among victims of recent thefts, but all vehicles should be considered potential targets.

Replacing a stolen catalytic converter can cost up to $2,000, according to the PPD, although the most a thief is likely to get for one from a metal recycler is only about a tenth of that, according to automotive information website Edmunds.com.

The Pittsburg Police Department is encouraging citizens to park vehicles in well-lit areas, in view of security cameras, to block their vehicle’s undercarriage to make it harder for thieves to reach the catalytic converter, to calibrate vehicle alarms to go off when they detect vibration, and if parking in a parking lot to park near the roadway where routine traffic can deter theft.

Some vehicle owners are going a step further, a Kansas City police sergeant told Fox4, and etching their car’s VIN number onto catalytic converters, or welding them to the car’s frame.

The PPD is reminding citizens to stay vigilant and to report any suspicious activity they see by calling police dispatch at 620-231-1700. Anyone with information about criminal activity or stolen property can leave an anonymous tip at the department’s tip line, 620-231-TIPS (8477).