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Free etching combats catalytic converter theft

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POSTED March 5, 2013 1:44 a.m.

You wake up in the morning, get ready for work and walk out into your driveway to start your car.

And something is wrong.

Instead of sounding like the daily driver that you take to get to-and-from work, it more closely resembles a hot rod – just the exhaust from the engine dumping straight out into the open air.

Sound familiar? If it does, then you’ve unfortunately had your catalytic converter stolen by thieves looking to cash it in at recycling centers that pay top dollar for some of the precious metals contained within.

The San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department, however, has a solution.

On Saturday, March 16, the agency will be teaming up with Les Schwab Tires in Stockton and Manteca to provide the engraving of license plate numbers that would make tracking the stolen parts and returning them to rightful owners much easier. The engraving is free and takes place from noon to 2 p.m. on March 16. The Manteca location is on West Yosemite Avenue west of Union Road.

Lathrop Police Services Chief Danielle Hohe said that while the thefts occasionally come in spurts, the program will deter would-be snatchers by letting them know that law enforcement is taking another step towards thwarting the practice.

“Typically when somebody steals something that’s traceable they make attempts to alter those numbers or remove them,” she said. “And if we catch them with those items they’re still identifiable to us – we know that they didn’t obtain them the way that they’re saying they did.

“There really isn’t a circuit in Lathrop where these come in groupings, and we want to get out in front of something like that happening. It’s a way to be proactive and offer something that the community can take advantage of, and best of all – it’s free.”

 While certain vehicles – Toyota models like the 4Runner, Tacoma and Camry from the early 2000’s – are more susceptible because of the layout of the exhaust system, any car can be pegged as a target. While some were welded to the frame and the undercarriage, others are attached with only bolts that can be pulled in a matter of seconds – harvested for tiny but valuable quantities of platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold.

Police have taken a proactive approach over the last decade to thwart thieves through programs like free engraving and welding, but they’ve also conducted sting operations aimed at shutting down recyclers that knowingly pay out for stolen items.

In 2007 Stockton Police arrested a Manteca businesswoman that on numerous occasions bought catalytic converters from undercover officers – inviting media outlets from throughout the area to drive the point home that such crimes wouldn’t be tolerated.

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