Charlottesville and Albemarle County have seen a spate of catalytic converter thefts in recent weeks as such thefts surge across the country.
According to Jacob Bowlin, a Charlottesville police detective, city police have received reports of 18 stolen catalytic converters just since July 15. Every one of the victims owned a Toyota Prius, he said.
“We saw a significant amount of thefts at the beginning of the year, but the number has definitely increased recently,” Bowlin said. “I don’t know the exact number of thefts in years prior, but we have seen a noticeable jump in the number of reported thefts.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts have seen a significant increase across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
Catalytic converters are emissions-control devices that started being used widely in 1975 to reduce air pollution, according to the Let’s Talk Science educational website, and are often composed of three valuable metals: platinum, palladium and rhodium.
The parts can be sold for a few hundred dollars apiece, according to an Associated News report, but can cost vehicle owners more than $1,000 to replace.
According to Bowlin, the city police suspect that Prius vehicles are being targeted because they are easy to prop up with a car jack to quickly remove the converter. Because all of the vehicles targeted have been the same, Bowlin said police suspect the same perpetrator or perpetrators are behind the recent thefts.
“They’ve been hitting a bunch of vehicles all in the same night; it’s not an everyday occurrence,” he said.
Bowlin said drivers should park in well-lit areas with cameras and near busy roadways to help deter thefts. Additionally, shields and other devices designed to be installed over catalytic converters can help offset thefts, he said.
“We really need a lot of help from the public on this one. We need them to be on the lookout for anything suspicious,” Bowlin said. “We think that they’re using saw blades to cut these converters off, and when those blades hit the metal, it makes a loud noise.”
Albemarle County also has seen an increase in catalytic converter thefts, according to Abbey Stumpf, spokesperson for the county police.
So far in 2021, Stumpf said there have been 77 cases involving at least one catalytic converter theft or attempted theft. This compares with 18 cases for the same period last year, she said.
“July is Vehicle Theft Prevention Month and during this month, and beyond, Albemarle County police encourages the Albemarle community to remain alert and follow prevention tips to better protect personal property,” she said. “Basic prevention habits can help deter a variety of vehicle-related thefts — whether it be a catalytic converter, bags and personal property inside the car, tires, or the entire car itself.”