Last week two commuters started up their cars in the parking lot of the ACE train stgation in Lathrop after returning from work and discovered the startling sound of the engine bypassing the exhaust system.
Both were missing the catalytic converters, which Lathrop Police say can be taken by motivated thieves with the right tools in just a matter of seconds.
While video surveillance has given detectives solid leads as to who might have snatched the exhaust components – certain models contain trace elements of precious metals, which can be extracted and amass real value with enough of the converters – officials are warning people who leave their car parked in the same location for an extended period of time to take as many precautions as possible to avoid being victimized.
“There may be some aftermarket things that people can look into adding to their vehicles that make it more difficult, but these guys choose cars that they know are going to be there for a while and they have the tools to do the job,” said Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann, who added that crimes like these typically come in waves. “A few years ago we worked to establish rules with the recyclers throughout the county about how these can be processed when they’re brought in – people have to show ID, and if somebody comes with more than one in a short period they have to report it – but those aren’t always followed.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to keep an eye on.”
Because of the relative ease at which they can removed, thieves tend to target certain Japanese import models – Toyota and Honda vehicles are near the top of the list for catalytic converter theft – and a well-equipped thief can make off with the unit in less than a minute.
Biedermann said he recommends that people choose long-term locations that are monitored either by surveillance cameras or routine patrols as a way to protect your vehicle and its catalytic converter – which can cost more than $1,000 to replace if stolen.
But while Lathrop has been hit with a number of catalytic converter thefts in the last month, so far it has been spared by the rash of recent wheel thefts that have left residents in neighboring communities fuming after coming out to find their vehicles up on blocks.
Biedermann said after a spike in those crimes in 2018, Lathrop increased its routine patrols through neighbors as a deterrent and saw the number of reported crimes drop and remain down ever since.
What makes the crime even more frustrating for residents, he said, is that thieves often have the tools necessary to remove even wheel locks and don’t care about damaging the other components of the car since the wheels are the only thing they’re going for.
“We recommend that people park their cars in their driveway and have a motion light or something that makes it harder to remain undetected, and possibly even add surveillance cameras,” he said. “Fortunately, we haven’t very many of those calls recently while other cities have seen quite a few, and we want to continue to remain a presence to let thieves know that we’re out and we’re looking for them.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.