Catalytic converter theft pattern raises eyebrows

New state legislation to address issue

While almost universally used in most modern cars to reduce harmful pollution, catalytic converters are a hot commodity in today’s economic climate.

They are so sought after that thieves go out of their way to steal them from under strangers’ vehicles—especially in Queens—where street parking is so common.

Catalytic converters, on average, sell for $1,500 to $3,000, due to their valuable metals platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which continue to rise in price.

Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman, the new commanding officer of the 104th Precinct, said that the short time it takes to steal a catalytic converter also plays a role.

“Perpetrators of this crime have become very good at it, and often, what they do is pull up to the target vehicle, and two of them get out,” he said.
“They can perform this operation in under a minute, or 30 seconds, very quickly,” he continued. “It happens in the blink of an eye and they drive off.”

As a result of constituent complaints and concerns heard at local civic meetings, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo and his state colleagues approved a bill to combat catalytic converter theft.

The newly adopted legislation requires vehicle dismantlers and scrap processors to document information on the seller of the device, otherwise they will face a hefty fine.

State lawmakers, including Addabbo, hope these requirements will deter thieves from committing the crime.

“The ease of removing these devices from vehicles and the valuable precious metals used in catalytic converters has made this particular item a prime target for thieves,” Addabbo said. “This legislation, which for me is a direct result of constituent complaints, will ensure law enforcement has the necessary tools to thoroughly investigate the theft of this vital equipment which serves to protect the environment, while also ensuring individuals caught stealing will face appropriate consequences.”

Charlie, a Forest Hills resident who declined to give his last name, said he personally witnessed two thieves stealing his neighbor’s catalytic converter.

“I saw one guy acting as a lookout and I heard some sawing sounds coming from under the car. I immediately took out my phone and started taking photos, and I even got a good shot of the license plate, which was a paper one,” he said.

“The spotter noticed me taking photos and started yelling at me, asking me what I’m doing,” he continued. “They were pretty much done in 10 to 15 minutes, and by the time the cops arrived these thieves were long gone.”

Charlie said he did not want to get too close to the perpetrators, as they could have been armed, and hopes that the new state legislation will make thieves think twice before stealing the part.

“The parts cost so much money to replace, and it’s certainly hurting the pockets of the people that own the cars or the insurance companies,” he said. “Because of the high cost of parts replacement in addition to the inconvenience caused to car owners, thieves and chop shops should also pay a big price for stealing these parts.”

Michael Zhou, a Rego Park resident, said that his brother’s catalytic converter got stolen last week in Kew Gardens Hills, and his own was stolen in February.

He is frustrated that this crime is so rampant in the community, and how perpetrators only seem to care about making fast money with no consideration for the people it affects.

“It takes the perpetrator less than 2 minutes to steal it. For someone to make $300, like my daughter who works for an ice cream store at $15.50 an hour, she would need to work 19 hours. Perps, of course, would rather earn $300 in two minutes instead of working for 19 hours,” Zhou said.