Wave of catalytic converter thefts hits Hazel Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 4, 2013

HAZEL PARK — In the span of one night, a rash of catalytic converter thefts took place in the city of Hazel Park.

“Keeping up on local police trends, I’ve noticed other cities have been hit by these types of crimes — Madison Heights and Ferndale and so on — but we hadn’t had much trouble with them until this night,” said Hazel Park Police Chief Martin Barner. “It’s possible they go from one city to the next. It’s hard to tell if they’re coordinated.”

The devices reduce pollution-causing emissions in automobile exhaust systems and have been mandatory in all vehicles produced in the U.S. since 1975. They contain precious metals, such as platinum, palladium or rhodium, which chemically convert toxic gases like carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into less harmful emissions.

These precious metals can net a pretty penny today, so thieves are willing to take the risk to slide under the vehicle and cut them out, selling them at scrap yards or unscrupulous repair shops. But there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason as to when or where the thieves strike.

In this case, the five catalytic converters were stolen the night of Nov. 19, going on into the morning of Nov. 20. Four of them were within blocks of each other. They include:

• A 1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette, in the 1200 block of East Jarvis.
• A 2001 Chevy Venture, in the 800 block of East Robert.
• A 2005 Pontiac Sunfire, in the 1100 block of East Pearl.
• A 2002 Pontiac Grand Am, in the 1100 block of East Madge.
• A 2002 Chevy Malibu, in the 100 block of Hazelcrest.

“Most of the converters are sold at recycling centers,” Barner said. “You would think that whoever’s working at these places would check. We talked to the ones we have in our town, telling them that if someone comes in with four or five catalytic converters, you should call police. That’s just suspicious. But we have no records of them being turned in locally.”

He noted that, usually, people think that vehicles higher off the ground, like vans and SUVs, are easier to target because there’s more space for the thief to reach the underbelly where the converter is located. But Barner is quick to point out that among the vehicles struck in this incident were a Sunfire, a Grand Am and a Malibu, all of which are low to the ground. It’s possible a jack was used to lift the vehicles high enough to steal their converters, he said.

“Usually, they use a battery-operated saw — something quick, easy and portable, cutting through the metal,” Barner said. “If your converter is stolen, the vehicle will be extremely loud.”

He advised parking in well-lit, highly-traffic areas, and watching out for others. 

“We rely on our residents to be alert, and if they see or hear something that draws their attention, to give us a call,” Barner said. “Also, be vigilant of any suspicious characters cruising up and down your street.”

The Hazel Park Police Department is located at 111 E. Nine Mile and can be reached by calling (248) 542-6161.