Cops: More than 30 catalytic converters nabbed in 14 days

Andrew Huggins said he will replace his Honda Element before he pays another $1,300 to replace a stolen catalytic converter.

His vehicle was one of more than 30 struck in the past two weeks in a string of catalytic converter thefts in east Atlanta and Decatur, police said.

“If it happens again, I’m certainly going to get a different car,” a frustrated Huggins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you can’t protect yourself, why keep it?”

Police reported the spike in the auto part heists since the beginning of the month, speculating that thieves are looking to fence the component for the enclosed platinum – a precious metal that’s reselling now for roughly $50 a gram.

Ways of stopping them are few and far between, noted Huggins, whose SUV was parked in a gated apartment community.

“My car is still parked in the same place and they got away with it scot-free,” he complained. “If you park on the street, what’s to stop them from getting it?”

Thieves have mostly targeted the Element, the model SUV Huggins drives, Atlanta Police spokesman Sgt. Greg Lyon said. Honda CRVs also seemed prevalent, but other vehicles hit in the two-week span have included Toyotas, Fords and even a U-Haul truck, police said.

And waves like this one come in cycles, said Lyon, an 11-year veteran with APD who said thieves now are simply loosening a few bolts to remove the part.

“Years ago they were stealing catalytic converters,” Lyon said. “It’s one of those things where, if it’s safe to fence them, then they’ll move.”

Atlanta police reported 26 incidents involving catalytic converters, the part that changes the poisonous exhaust from a vehicle’s internal combustion engine into safer compounds, such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen and water.

Decatur police officials told Channel 2 Action News that they had seven thefts in that same time.

Authorities can’t say, however, whether the thefts which also were recorded in southwest and northwest Atlanta are related.

Cobb County police reported 13 thefts since April 1. Police don’t flag thefts from vehicles by the item stolen, and other metro police agencies were unable to point to a total of catalytic converter thefts.

Police reported a string of thefts from cars parked at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last July. The Cobb County school system reported 22 catalytic converters stolen from school vehicles in the same month.

Still, Lyon said the number of catalytic converter thefts in Atlanta between January and now has dropped since the same time last year. In 2012, there were 158 victims, compared to 135 victims this year.

Huggins joined this year’s number of unlucky drivers on the afternoon of May 8, when he started his 2005 Element and it sounded startlingly different.

“It sounded like a rocket ship,” he said. “There were bolts on the ground and the catalytic converter was gone.”

Richard Hinds’ Element was targeted twice in the same night before police eventually arrested a pair of suspects, Canard Paul Clarke, 33, and Andre Jarreau Mitchell.

Hinds told the AJC that Old Fourth Ward neighbors alerted him early on May 6 that they’d chased a twosome – one beneath the car and another standing lookout – away from his vehicle.

“About 45 minutes later, my son said, ‘I saw them under the car and I ran them off,’” Hinds said of his 16-year-old. “But the second time they came back, they were able to make off with the catalytic converter.”

The teen was able to identify the suspects for police, but they’d already gotten rid of the catalytic converter, according to police. Mitchell and Clarke were charged with jaywalking and prowling, respectively, and taken to Atlanta City Jail.

Jamal Byams, manager at Muffler King on Moreland Avenue, said he’s seen a slight uptick in orders to replace the exhaust-scrubbing part in recent weeks.

Byams said the part is considerably easier to remove from a vehicle than they once were, when they were welded in place.

“The reason why they’re targeting the Hondas is because you don’t have to cut it out,” he said. “It’s bolted in.”

Removal of a catalytic converter requires only a few tools and a few minutes.

“Being that they’re unbolting it, it’s quieter,” Byams said. “They’re not up under cars making a lot of noise, and the cars are higher, so you don’t need a jack.”

So how can you stop catalytic converter thieves?

Lyon said area police are cooperating to determine whether the stolen parts are being sold to a chop shop or an unscrupulous metal scrap buyer.

A security device, called the CatClamp, sells online for upward of $300. But Byams said it only makes a bandit slightly less quick.

“If they’re determined enough, they can get it if they have the right tools,” he said.

Hinds plans to install his new converter himself, and imparted this advice he received.

“I was told you can back your car in to deter them,” he said. “And someone told me to get the bolts welded once they’re on.”

But vigilance is key, authorities said. It worked for Cornell Cypress, who on May 2 spotted a man ducking beneath the rear of his 2011 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck outside his office.

Cypress and a coworker confronted Jesse Howard, 29, handcuffing the man they caught until police were called to the scene, according to police reports.

Howard was arrested and charged with second-degree criminal property damage and possession of tools to commit a crime. He remains in the Fulton County Jail on $8,000 bond.

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