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Miami Police Detective offers insight into rising catalytic converter thefts

MIAMI – Miami Police Auto Crimes Detail Detective Osvaldo Toca is on the front lines of a national crime trend – stolen catalytic converters.

“As far as South Florida is concerned, over the last year we’ve started to see the increase,” he explained.

Thieves have stolen catalytic converters, in part because of the precious metals they contain on some vehicles.

“They’re trying to go for taller vehicles — trucks, vans,” Toca said.

These vehicles are better targets than others.

“Hybrid vehicles like Priuses — also Honda elements because they contain a greater amount of precious metals,” Toca said.

Toca also provided Local 10 News with a rare view of converters being seized as evidence to raise awareness of what can be done to help police catch criminals.

“You can see they sawed off the pipe, take the whole piece of catalyst,” Toca said. “Call us right away. We caught these perpetrators in the act.”

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One of Toca’s cases led to the arrest of 44-year-old Francisco Lozano-Hernandez, who now faces a felony charge.

“The vandalism charge of actually cutting it off to fix this part is over $1,000 and the actual value of the item is grand theft,” Toca said.

Toca said surveillance video at a Miami store caught Lozano-Hernandez walking from a victim’s car to his rented U-Haul, holding a stolen catalytic converter.

“Many of these offenders transcend jurisdiction,” Toca said.

So he started sifting through records, working with other agencies, and learning that Lozano-Hernandez had also been arrested in other cities, like Hialeah, for stealing catalytic converters.

“We are working with other departments to identify this perpetrator,” Toca said.

He says one challenge in solving these cases is what you don’t see on the converters.

“There is no identifiable factor to know which vehicle they belong to,” he said.

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To deter thieves and help police track them down, mechanics, dealers and drivers can etch or spray-paint your VIN or tag on the converter and install anti-theft devices such as shields and guards.

People should also park in a well-lit area and consider a higher sensitivity car alarm, as well as installing CCTV and motion detectors in your home or business.

Crime, he says, is loud.

“Neighborhood watchers, they hear it and quickly — if you see it, take video or photos of the thieves or getaway car license plate, but protect yourself by not approaching,” Toca said. “Hoping that individuals can recognize this and help be part of the solution to prevent this type of crime.”

“During the pandemic, we have seen a significant increase in catalytic converter thefts. As the value of precious metals contained in catalytic converters increased significantly in 2020, so did the theft of these devices,” said David Glawe, CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, in a statement. “There is a clear correlation between times of crisis, limited resources and supply chain disruptions that is driving investors to these precious metals.

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“Catalyst theft has increased dramatically in the last two years and is reaching record highs. Vehicle owners pay a heavy price when a thief targets their catalytic converter, which often results in lost income from not being able to work, having to find and pay for alternative transportation, and then paying anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to have the vehicle repaired.”

TO REDUCE THE POSSIBILITY OF YOUR CATALYST BEING STOLEN, THE NICB RECOMMENDS YOU:

· Install a catalytic converter anti-theft device. These are available from various manufacturers and can offer some protection against theft.

· Park fleet trucks in an enclosed area that is secure, well-lit, locked and alarmed.

· Park your car in a garage if possible. If this is not possible and the vehicle must be parked in a driveway, consider installing motion sensor security lights. While lights may not offer complete security, it may make some thieves think twice and they may choose to leave the area and your car untouched. Whether it’s in the garage or out in the driveway, set the alarm on your vehicle if you have one.

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· Attend a local NICB catalyst etch event. If none are currently planned in your area, contact a muffler shop who can etch your vehicle’s VIN onto the converter and spray paint it with a high-visibility high-temp paint. This allows the NICB and law enforcement agencies to track the catalysts, which could lead to the arrest of catalyst thieves.

Typical target vehicles include high clearance vehicles, fleet vehicles as they are usually in a yard and multiple can be easily targeted, and hybrid vehicles. It only takes seconds to get to a car, crawl under it, and turn off the converter.

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https://www.local10.com/news/local/2022/05/06/miami-police-detective-gives-inside-take-on-soaring-catalytic-converter-thefts/ Miami Police Detective offers insight into rising catalytic converter thefts

Joel McCord

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