Berkeley police report increased catalytic converter thefts in Bay Area

Infographic about recent catalytic converter thefts in Berkeley
Quynh Truong/Staff

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Catalytic converter thefts are on the rise in the Bay Area, with 74 thefts reported this year as of press time.

From 2019 to 2020, the number of thefts in the city of Berkeley more than tripled, according to a Nixle alert released Thursday by Berkeley Police Department.

A catalytic converter is a device that controls exhaust emissions in cars, turning toxic pollutants from internal combustion engines into ones that are less toxic. The average cost to repair these converters for most cars is between $945 and $2,475, and the cost of the converter itself can be comparable to a car’s value, making it a target for theft.

On Wednesday, a video released by BPD revealed a recent theft on the 1200 block of Gilman Street. At about 11:30 p.m. Jan. 31, a car pulled over behind a parked vehicle, and two people from the car proceeded to work together to remove the converter from the vehicle.

“What we’ve seen in the past is a group of 2-3 suspects in a vehicle drive through several neighborhoods–taking multiple catalytic converters over the course of an hour or so,” alert states.

Catalytic converter thefts are especially salient during the COVID-19 pandemic, as car owners sometimes go days without operating their vehicle and, therefore, do not always immediately notice missing converters.

Since catalytic converters contain valuable metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium, the converters are desirable. Both rhodium and palladium are more valuable than gold, and platinum is becoming increasingly valuable; rhodium is now about five times more valuable than gold.

As a result of these metals, cases of catalytic converter thefts are on the rise nationally. Some owners of cars such as Toyotas are urging automakers to implement protection around the converters, such as metal shields, in an effort to make theft less feasible.

When buying used catalytic converters, California requires that businesses retain photographic or video records on the seller for at least two years.

To prevent thefts, BPD encourages people to report suspicious activity, park their cars in garages or well-lit areas, use high-resolution video surveillance systems and add a theft security device to their catalytic converters, according to the alert.

Contact Mia Scher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @miascher_dc.