Local police have noticed a new crime trend in Frankfort, and it’s happening in busy places during daylight hours.
Frankfort Police Capt. Robert Warfel said the agency has handled about seven catalytic converter theft cases within the last month, and all remain unsolved.
The thefts are occurring at all hours of the day, and are happening in populated parking lots like those at Walmart and Lowe’s, Warfel said.
“There’s no real big pattern to it,” Warfel said. “They’re just kind of randomly doing it.”
Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system, and they contain precious metals. The most recent theft reported was Aug. 31 at Frankfort Regional Medical Center.
“It appears most of these have been parking lots, different businesses’ parking lots,” Warfel said.
He said video footage from the hospital parking lot shows a silver or gray four-door sedan backing into a parking spot next to a black SUV, and the passenger got out and crawled underneath the other vehicle.
“Completely unnoticed,” Warfel said, mentioning the theft occurred around 11:30 a.m.
He said it appeared there were two white males in the silver or gray vehicle, and one was wearing a baseball hat, red shorts and a black T-shirt.
Warfel said it seems the theives are targeting vans, trucks or SUVs because those vehicles sit up higher and are easier to slide under.
There have been 14 cases since January, but Warfel said it’s probably closer to 20 vehicles that have been damaged because some reports include multiple vehicles.
The converters are being sold to metal recyclers, for about $75-$100, Warfel said.
“I think it’s easy money. I think it’s an economic thing,” Warfel said. “They can quickly do it … It’s literally minutes by the time they spot and park.”
Metal recyclers cannot buy from anyone younger than 18 years old, and customers must provide ID to complete a sale.
While selling the part to a recycler only earns about $100 or less, replacing a missing catalytic converter can cost $2,000-$3,000, Warfel said.
He said detectives are working with metal recyclers in the area to find suspects in the cases. No arrests have been made yet.
“We haven’t ruled anything out … but given the nature of it, we think that they’re probably related,” Warfel said.
He suggested residents pay attention to their surroundings and call police if they see anything strange.
“It isn’t happening in back alley parking lots,” Warfel said. “Look out, be aware and please call.”
Tips to avoid catalytic converter thefts
Catalytic converter thieves typically strike vehicles that are parked for long periods of time in large lots. Thefts can happen in less than a minute. If your vehicle starts with a gravelly roar, it may be a sign your catalytic converter has been stolen.
To avoid theft:
- Engrave your license plate number on your converter to make it traceable.
- Set your vehicle security system to trigger with just the slightest motion.
- Hire a professional to secure the converter to the vehicle’s frame with welded steel.
- Research converter theft deterrent systems at your local auto parts store or online.
- Choose secure areas close to building entrances or access roads with lots of traffic when parking in large lots.
Source: Nationwide insurance company.