ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is not a new crime, but it’s quickly becoming more common in the metro. Thieves are targeting peoples’ cars for something very pricy. Karen Braddock left her Albuquerque home last month for vacation. She came home to find something was missing. “Now, we are worried every time we leave the house,” Braddock said.
The catalytic converter on the van in her driveway was sawed off. The thieves even left the blade behind. “The fact that people would come into your space and do destruction, that was the hardest part,” Braddock said.
The catalytic converter on the underside of vehicles helps reduce emissions. When they are sawed off, the car is very loud when it starts. “We started the van, and it was really, really loud,” Braddock said.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, these types of thefts have skyrocketed nationwide since the start of the pandemic as the value of precious metals contained within the catalytic converters has significantly increased. Nationwide, only about 1,300 were reported stolen in 2018. In 2020, that number was 14,000. “Whether you sell it because everyone is cutting it off or just the recycling or breaking it down and taking the metal out of it are what thieves are going for,” Officer Hence Williams with the Albuquerque Police Department said.
In Albuquerque, the numbers are going up. APD said there have been 352 incidents where a catalytic converter was removed or stolen off a car this year from January to June. That number is almost triple what it was for the same time last year. “When people get under the vehicle and have it cut out in less than a minute with a street value of usually around $200 to $700, we are seeing them take advantage of that opportunity when it becomes available,” Williams said.
Police said thieves target places where people know a car will be parked for an extended period of time out in the open. Zia Automotive said they installed fencing in the last year to protect their inventory of cars. “We have certainly had them stolen especially specialty stuff like Lexus and Mercedes,” Owner James Santistevan said. “It’s been a disappointment to us.”
Braddock said the theft has left her frightened. “What if they come back for something else,” she asked.
Braddock said she can’t afford the full repair yet which APD said can cost up to $2,000 to replace. The owner of Zia Automotive said he’s even heard of people installing a doorbell camera under their vehicles to catch a thief in action.