By John Williams and Xavier Redditt
Within the past several months, the 16th Police District of Jefferson Park in Chicago has released three community alerts regarding a spree of catalytic converter thefts.
But this is nothing new to Jefferson Park residents as the theft of catalytic converters has been an ongoing issue for years.
Jefferson Park resident Donald Faliszek had not one, but two catalytic converters stolen from under his vehicles. Parked in his driveway located on the 5300 block of West Leland Avenue, Faliszek’s 2000 Pontiac Sunfire and 2002 Pontiac Aztek both had their catalytic converters taken.
#JeffersonPark residents: catalytic converter thefts are happening in your area. Story on the matter coming 12/2. #Chicago #CatConverterThefts #UICdigital pic.twitter.com/Tau9Yx0Vkp
— John Williams (@JohnWill2234) December 1, 2021
“I could not tell you the exact year, could have been 2013, but you know,” Faliszek said. “They were not stolen at the same time. They were like a couple of months apart, but I know it was during the summer months.”
Faliszek is just one of many Jefferson Park residents that have been affected by these thefts. Since June of this year, there have been over 30 converter thefts reported in community alerts released by the 16th District. 2018 saw a similar spree of thefts, also resulting in the release of multiple alerts.
At 5:30 a.m. in summer 2013, former Ald. John Arena (45th ward) was getting ready to go for a bike ride when he witnessed two people stealing a catalytic converter from a neighbor’s minivan.
“I could see clearly that he had something in his hand in one hand and in the other hand, I could make out the profile of a battery-powered Sawzall,” Arena said.
“And they just, one guy came from one side of the car. The other guy came, started walking right toward me. And it wasn’t like they couldn’t see me. I was standing right next to the sidewalk and they just walked by me with the tools in their hand and the cat and when he came by, I could see it was a catalytic converter, and I said ‘Did you just take that catalytic converter off?’”
Arena took down the license plate number of the van the suspects drove off in and called 911. Two months later, he received a call back from police notifying him that the suspects had been apprehended and charged in connection with a ring of catalytic converter thefts.
Although Arena’s vigilance was successful, it is not recommended that anyone confront thieves in or after the act in case they are armed and dangerous.
Ongoing Thefts Nationwide
Catalytic converter thefts have been ongoing for a handful of years. A study conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that 108 converter thefts occurred in the U.S per month in 2018. This number has since skyrocketed to about 1,200 per month in 2020.
The study suggests that the state of affairs due to the coronavirus have largely contributed to these increasing numbers. Closed facilities, lack of public safety resources, and unemployment have all stemmed from the pandemic, increasing crime around the nation.
Additional evidence supports the claim that occurrences of these thefts are becoming more frequent. According to data analyzed by BeenVerified, Illinois saw 470 converter thefts in 2020. There have been 1,191 thefts so far this year to date, marking an drastic increase of 153.6%.
What is a Catalytic Converter?
A catalytic converter is an emissions device that alters a car’s exhaust gasses, including carbon monoxide, turning them into less harmful gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor before they are released into the atmosphere. Within a catalytic converter lies valuable substances such as palladium and platinum, which act as a catalyst creating the cleansing reaction that deals with the harmful exhaust chemicals. The catalytic converters are often found underneath the vehicle near the exhaust outlet, making them easily susceptible to theft.
There are several kinds of catalytic converters. A ‘two-way’ oxidation converter converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons while a ‘three-way’ catalytic converter is used on more modern cars, expanding on the ‘two-way’ converter. These reduce nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions which are harmful to both humans and the environment. Diesel cars have different types of converters as well.
Why Are They Stolen?
Catalytic converters are most often stolen because of the precious metals they contain. Individuals can resell the converters to recycling scrap yards or on the internet for quick cash. These recyclers will pay anywhere from $50 to $250 for one converter.
Because there isn’t a tracking system on converters in many states or cities, people can continuously steal the component with little fear of facing punishment. Scrap yards in the state of Ohio have combatted this issue by incorporating criminal background checks of sellers. They also maintain a shared database with their local police department.
According to one National Insurance Crime Bureau study, larger vehicles like pick up trucks and delivery trucks are targeted more often. These vehicles have a higher ground clearance which makes the process of cutting a converter out much easier.
Tim Chrisobi, a Jefferson Park resident and technician at Pete’s Automotive Inc., said that vehicles with a higher suspension are frequent targets in the area.
“Your CRVs, your Jeeps, cars that are a little bit more elevated,” Chisobi said. “Right underneath like the passenger side or, you know, right towards the center of the vehicle, they’re easy to get to.”
As someone who has replaced these converters often, including one stolen from his own Jeep, Chrisobi warns of potentially costly repairs.
“To replace a cat could be, you know, for original equipment, it could be seven, eight hundred, one thousand dollars,” he said. “Repairing a Toyota Prius could be $3,000.”
In 2013, Faliszek paid out-of-pocket for his converters to avoid increased insurance rates.
“Each car was like $250 to $275 and I know the OEM manufacturer one, I mean, maybe $700 to $800,” he said.
Due to the speed at which trained thieves can remove a converter and flee the scene, which in some cases takes two minutes or less, preventing these thefts remains a challenging task.
Police departments recommend parking in garages, using motion sensor security lighting, cameras, or installing anti theft devices on the converter itself. Some police departments have also worked closely with scrap yards, painting tag numbers on converters sold to them and filing them in a shared database to catch potential thieves.
Having a catalytic converter stolen will be expensive to replace so it is recommended that you report thefts to your local authorities as soon as possible. As for other solutions, it may take some time to come up with a plan.
“There’s very little ways that we could identify to preempt too much of this stuff because you just never know where they’re going to show up,” Arena said.