Catalytic converter thefts on the rise in Lake Area

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:46 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - It’s a vital part of every vehicle - catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in the Lake Area

The St. Nicholas Center for Children is the latest victim of the crime after they say thieves ripped catalytic converters out of their company vans.

“Our kids have had to deal with enough,” Assistant Director of St. Nicholas Melissa Priola said.

It’s a growing crime in the Lake Area, and it takes thieves just minutes to pull off.

”On Tuesday when we went to start our vans, we realized that they had a problem. They sounded like something was wrong,” Priola said.

After catching the suspects on surveillance video, seeing the suspects in the act hit hard for the St. Nicholas Center.

”So, now we can’t use the vans at all. We have to have them towed to a mechanic shop, and they’re going to have to find out if they can get the parts that we need. We know with what’s happening across the country with delays and everything related to vehicles, we don’t know what that will look like for us,” Priola said.

Catalytic converter theft is being reported more and more frequently, according to Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso.

”For a little while, we’ll have cars that are just getting broke into. And now, the new this is they’re stealing catalytic converters,” Mancuso said. “Our Vehicle Crime Unit has been working very hard.”

Catalytic converters make toxic exhaust fumes less harmful to the environment and are located on the underside of vehicles. They also contain precious metals like rhodium, platinum, and palladium that can sell for upwards of $19,000 per ounce, which is driving the increase in thefts.

Mancuso said the suspects in this latest case have yet to be caught.

“We have 39 separate cases, we’ve made 7 arrests, we have 2 that we’re probably going to arrest pretty soon - in the next couple days. We do have suspects in a couple of other ones,” Mancuso said.

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Auto experts say replacing these converters can range from $800 to $2,500.

”I would say that people who are doing this are not just taking one, they’re taking multiple catalytic converters. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say probably most of them will be felonies,” Mancuso said.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau released a study in March which found an exponential increase in catalytic converter thefts since the start of the pandemic.

According to NICB’s Operations, Intelligence and Analytics study of reported thefts, there were...
According to NICB’s Operations, Intelligence and Analytics study of reported thefts, there were 108 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019, and 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020.((Source: KPLC))

Following this recent uptick in catalytic converter thefts, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office is urging drivers to start taking precautions to protect themselves. They suggest you:

  • Park in a well-lit area and close to a building entrance
  • Have the converter welded to your car’s frame
  • Consider engraving your VIN on the part
  • Calibrate your car’s alarm to set it off when it detects a vibration
  • Install surveillance cameras around your residence or wherever you park your vehicle
  • Always lock vehicle and set alarm

The best way to know if your converter is missing is by listening to your car when you start it. Your car will run very, very loud if it’s not there.

As for the St. Nicholas Center, the most valuable asset in their case is that they had surveillance cameras that caught the suspects in the act, according to Mancuso.

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s office asks anyone with information to contact them at 337-491-3605.

In the meantime, St. Nicholas says they’ll have to lease a school bus in order to transport children back and forth to therapy sessions.

For more information about catalytic converter theft and how to protect yourself, click HERE.

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