Catalytic Converter Thieves Strike Berkeley

By Kristin McFarland
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 08:52:00 AM

Three catalytic converter thefts last week represent an ongoing trend in Berkeley and a nationwide epidemic. 

“We have kind of a constant ebb and flow of catalytic converter thefts,” said Sergeant Mary Kusmiss, BPD community services bureau supervisor. “We attribute that to a suspect or a particular suspect working in Berkeley over a weekend or a brief period of a time.” 

Police report that there were 74 catalytic converter thefts from Jan. 1 to July 31. 

Last week’s thefts were reported on Monday, Aug. 4 in the 2900 block of Pine Avenue; on Tuesday, Aug. 5 in the 2100 block of Prince Street; and on Wednesday, Aug. 6 in the 2400 block of Prince Street. 

Because the theft of a catalytic converter is not immediately obvious, many thefts are not reported for several days. The first two thefts reported are estimated to have occurred between Aug. 1 and Aug. 3. 

The converters, which contain platinum, can be sold to illegal metal recyclers, who will give up to $100 per converter. Truly ingenuous thieves can actually extract the valuable metals from the converter, enabling them to sell the metal without the stolen car part. 

Metal theft generally has increased in the past year as the sale price of all metals has increased dramatically. Police report stolen copper wiring, sheet metal and aluminum every week. 

According to Sgt. Kusmiss, Berkeley has only one suspected metal recycler, so Berkeley thieves are likely taking the converters elsewhere to sell them. 

El Cerrito police recently conducted a raid at the home of an individual suspected of buying catalytic converters. While the police were searching the home, more than 10 people showed up with catalytic converters to sell. 

Thieves steal the auto part by removing bolts that attach it, or by sawing it off of the car. Sgt. Kusmiss said the best way to prevent the theft is by having the converter welded or clamped on rather than secured only by bolts.