NYPD battles catalytic converter theft again in Bronx with latest security event

Guarding against catalytic converter theft
Catalytic converters (front) are targeted by thieves. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

After the first catalytic converter theft prevention event last October had proven to be a great success, members of the NYPD Auto Crime Unit held a second free event in Orchard Beach in the Bronx on May 12. 

Cars started lining up three hours before the 10 a.m. event outside the parking lot because drivers wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to protect the precious and expensive vehicle component containing platinum, palladium, and rhodium. 

It’s easy money for the outlaws. One stolen catalytic converter equals a lucrative payday for crooks — sometimes $300 or more, depending on the vehicle from which the converter was taken. Most of the time, the part is easily accessible, and it takes about two minutes for seasoned thieves to remove the valuable part with the help of a car jack, a small reciprocating saw, and a buddy on the lookout.  

Applying the CATGUARD labels is as quick and could save car owners a few thousand dollars. Officers with the NYPD Auto Crime Unit apply labels with unique serial numbers and a QR Code onto the catalytic converters and coat them with acid, which etches the serial number into the catalytic converter once the part heats up. 

The serial number and QR code are linked to the vehicle’s identification number (VIN), and the information is entered into the CATGUARD database.

“This way, if [the catalytic converter] does happen to get stolen, we can identify it to see which car belongs to,” explained Inspector Robert LaPollo, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Auto Crime Unit. “Also, it prevents thieves from taking the catalytic converters that have the etchings on.”

LaPollo pointed out that the Bronx has seen the most catalytic converter thefts this year; however, the numbers are down by 17% compared to last year. Last year, approximately 9,000 converters were stolen. This year,  the NYPD has seen a 35% drop in catalytic converter theft. 

“I believe that’s due to a lot of the casework that we’ve done, the arrests we’ve made, and the events such as these anti-theft prevention methods that we’ve been using,” LaPollo said. He also pointed out that electric vehicles don’t have converters. 

Guarding against catalytic converter theft
Members of the NYPD Auto Theft Unit apply CATGUARD labels on the catalytic converter.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The New York State Legislature and City Council passed laws in October and December 2022 to crack down on the pilferage. 

Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation requiring junk yards and metal scrap yards to maintain a paper trail and information on the seller of catalytic converters. This measure assists law enforcement in going after the thieves who cashed in on the valuable metals. It also requires car dealerships to stock and offers catalytic converter etching kits at no cost for new and used vehicles. It also imposes restrictions on purchasing, selling, and possessing catalytic converters.

The City Council passed a bill introduced by Queens Council Member Linda Lee, which created a citywide program to distribute vehicle identification number (VIN) kits to etch identifying numbers into catalytic converters. The kits are distributed by the NYPD. 

LaPollo estimates that the NYPD and other agencies have “etched” thousands of cars so far, and the response from the community has been positive. 

Aaron Kornblum from Co-Op City in the Bronx said converter theft in his neighborhood was rampant, and he hoped that the extra security measure would prevent his car from becoming a target. 

“There are a lot in Co-Op City that get stolen. It’s such a big target because there are so many cars,” Kornblum said.  

He said the NYPD was doing a great job. “They do what they have to do.”

Guarding against catalytic converter theft
Members of the NYPD Auto Theft Unit apply CATGUARD labels on the catalytic converter.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Jackie Mason arrived at 7 a.m.,  and many cars were already ahead of her. 

“When I came the last time -and they said 10 o’clock-  I came at 10 o’clock, and the line was all the way down by Orchard Beach,” Mason said. “And they cut it off. They ran out of tickets. So,  I said, ‘This time, I’m gonna get there early.'”

Mason also lives in Co-Op City and knows a lot of drivers who had their catalytic converters stolen. 

“They take these things like crazy,” Mason said. “There are not enough [catalytic converter theft events].”

All in all, the event, which went from 10 am to 2 pm, served 225 cars. More free catalytic converter etching events are on the way, LaPollo said. 

“We’ve done multiple events at this point,” LaPollo said. “We’re going to continue throughout the summer to do as many vehicles as we can.”