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Going 360: What can be done to stop rising catalytic converter thefts

Going 360- Catalytic converter thefts
Posted at 5:30 AM, Jul 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-19 07:45:27-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department reports the number of catalytic converter thefts was about five times as high during the first five months of 2022, compared to the same time period of 2020.

Catalytic converters are exhaust emission control devices. Thieves steal the converters because they typically include platinum, rhodium and palladium.

KSHB 41 is taking this story 360, talking to:

  • Theft victims 
  • An auto shop doing repairs 
  • A KCPD sergeant 
  • A salvage yard manager 
  • A scrap dealer who buys converters 

A theft victim

Shelia Gilbert runs a nonprofit called "Food for Kids" in St. Joseph, Missouri. She gives free lunches to children there during the summer. She even delivers the lunches to the kids if needed.

Gilbert told KSHB 41 thieves have stolen catalytic converters on two of her vehicles in recent months. One time was during a trip out of town while her car was parked near Kansas City International Airport.

"I cried all the way home," shes said. "My vehicle sounded like a hotrod."

Thieves took the converter from her other van while it was parked at a St. Joseph-area church.

A KCPD sergeant

When comparing the most recent KCPD numbers, over the first five months of 2020, there were 189 catalytic converter thefts.

During that same time period this year, there were 946 thefts.

"It's literally two cuts, one on each end," Sgt. Dawn Jones, with the KCPD's Property Crimes Unit, said. "These thefts can happen in under a minute."

Sgt. Jones pointed to a recent local example with surveillance video.

It started while the sun was out, which she said actually happens in about half of the cases.

"They roll up, they get between cars, roll under and they are in and out of there really quick," she said.

Jones said there's a new Missouri state statute that was enacted in August 2021. It's now a felony to steal a converter off a vehicle or have three of more converters without the correct documentation.

She said the investigations are difficult and rely on victims coming forward quickly. Jones said the department is working toward charges locally.

"These cases will take time to put together," she continued. "I feel the pain of the victims."

An auto shop doing repairs

Tom Hadley is owner of All American Auto in Raytown.

"We've been doing it for 20 plus years," he told KSHB 41 near one of the shop's bays.

But recently, he's found his business is also a target for catalytic converter thefts.

"It just hurts," Hadley said.

Thieves try to take advantage of his customers' cars that are left at his shop on weekends. He said he's made adjustments.

"I just fill up the shop," he said. "I try to put them in the front. I try to make as many deterrents as possible."

Hadley showed KSHB 41 a possible solution.

"They call this a Cat Clamp," he said as he showed us a device meant to deter catalytic converter thefts. "You can't cut that with a sawzall."

That equipment costs between $200-$400. That's still cheaper than fixing it after the fact.

Hadley pointed to a customer receipt that was $943.37.

"That's on the cheap end," he said.

A salvage yard manager

Alan Paull is with All Star Auto Parts. Paull buys cars and tears vehicles down for parts. Many of those vehicles fill up the Kansas City salvage yard.

If you want to see how in demand catalytic converters are, know that a storage bin of the converters are under lock and key.

"It's the precious metal, like rhodium, palladium that are inside of them that are worth the big money," Paull said.

Paull said his shop doesn't sell converters. It's illegal because it won't meet emissions standards. It's not necessarily to deter theft. Plus, he says, his shop doesn't have the level of expertise to properly price the converters.

Paull says they let the converters pile up, then they ship them out of state.

"We send it straight to a manufacturer. They cut it and take all the precious metals out," he said.

A scrap dealer

Sandy Levine is owner at KC Iron and Metal Company. The scrap dealing company buys catalytic converters, but in Kansas City, Missouri, Levine says there are strict rules that sellers need to follow.

"When they come in, they have to have the title to the car that the converter came off of," he said.

If the potential customer sold the car for scrap, they need that bill of sale, too. The neighborhood council keeps tabs on the process.

"We have to keep paperwork on every converter we buy," he said.

Levine is frustrated because the ordinance only impacts Kansas City, Missouri, and he complains that neighboring communities haven't adopted the rules.

"They are not under these same ordinances, so if they buy catalytic converters, they don't have to report them the same way we do," he said.

Levine points to manufacturers. He thinks they should set up a database where there's a numbering system on each converter.

"They can be attached to the vehicle they're putting it on," he said. "You'd have a lot better tracking device."

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at 360@kshb.com.