Roseville cops help mark catalytic converters to deter thefts

blindelof@sacbee.comJanuary 17, 2013 

The next time a thief slides under a Toyota truck in Roseville to cut off a catalytic converter, police hope he gets one look at the brightly painted emission control device and slides back out.

Last year in Roseville, about 180 catalytic converters were stolen. Thieves especially love to steal the emission control devices from Toyota Sequoias and Tundras, but also are drawn to other high-off-the-ground trucks and SUVs from other carmakers.

"It's the pits," said Dominic Campanelli, parts and service director for Sullivan Auto Group, owners of Roseville Toyota. "It's a huge inconvenience for customers. It's raising everyone's insurance rates."

In conjunction with the Roseville Police Department, a free service is being offered to residents. Motorists can have their catalytic converters spray painted bright orange, then etched with the vehicle's license plate number.

Roseville Toyota, Firestone Auto Care and McAnally Racing/Napa Autocare Center will perform the service with paint and etching tools supplied by police.

Campanelli said thieves typically cut the converters off with a quiet chain-style pipe cutter, making the cut in two minutes. The damage to repair cars and expense to replace converters can total $2,000 to $5,000, he said.

Some vehicles with dual exhaust have four converters. Pipes and oxygen sensors are often damaged in thefts.

"And the parts are pretty expensive," Campanelli said. "They are after them for the platinum and palladium."

Over the weekend, four men were arrested in Placer County with 12 catalytic converters in their possession. Police said the converters typically fetch $50 to $100 each for thieves.

Campanelli said motorists can call his dealership for an appointment for the etching. An etching appointment will usually take about 20 minutes.

In addition to possibly making thieves back away when they see an etched and spray-painted catalytic converter, an emission control device that can be traced back to a theft is a powerful evidentiary tool for police.

Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn said thieves caught with unetched catalytic converters often say they found the device or got it from an unnamed acquaintance.

There is no way for police to trace the device to a particular theft.

"However, if an officer pulls over a suspect with a painted and etched catalytic converter, we can then determine the victim and arrest the person in possession of the device," Hahn said.

Also, Hahn said, recyclers will be told that if they purchase a catalytic converter painted orange with an etched license number, they will be arrested for buying stolen property.

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