by Anneli Rufus
On January 11, the same morning on which Berkeley police officers nabbed a serial auto burglar, they also tracked down some catalytic converter thieves.
BPD Officer Byron White, Operations Division Area Coordinator for a large portion of North Berkeley, reports that, well into the wee hours, a citizen "called BPD to report hearing suspicious noises coming from where they saw someone under a vehicle with a light in the neighborhood north of Marin Avenue between Spruce and Euclid Avenue.
"Hearing the police radio broadcast, Sergeant Jennifer Tate #S-14 responded to the location. Once on the street where the person was reported as being seen underneath a vehicle with a light, Sergeant Tate saw a vehicle driving towards her. Sergeant Tate detained the vehicle, only to discover that it was a newspaper deliverer.
"Shortly thereafter, Officer Marcus Fields #58 and Officer Corey Bold #68 arrived to assist Sergeant Tate with the search. The three officers began searching the area on foot when Sergeant Tate noticed a SUV parked in front of a residence that appeared to have a piece of metal sticking out from underneath it. Seeing this, the officers focused their search near the suspicious SUV. Just then, Officer Fields spotted a man hiding in the bushes in the side yard of the residence where the SUV was parked in front of. Seeing that the man also had an electric saw within his arms’ reach, Officer Fields ordered the man to put his hands up. Officer Bold then came over and handcuffed the man.
"While Officer Fields and Officer Bold detained the man hiding in the bushes, Officer Joseph Kelly #1 came to the area and started checking other nearby parked vehicles. Just north of where Officer Fields had found the man hiding in the bushes, Officer Kelly spotted a woman reclined in the passenger seat of another vehicle — seemingly hiding too.
"While Officer Kelly still had the woman detained, Officer Fields continued to investigate the man hiding in the bushes. After speaking with the man, the man admitted to Officer Fields that he had stolen a catalytic converter about an hour ago and that it was still located inside of his vehicle — the same vehicle where Officer Kelly was detaining the woman.
"Further investigation into the man and woman revealed that the man was probation for burglary and the woman was his girlfriend and accomplice. A search of the man revealed various burglary tools and drugs. A search of the man and woman’s vehicle revealed more burglary related tools as well as a previously stolen catalytic converter. The two of them were arrested for felony theft, possession of stolen property, possession of controlled substances, and possession of burglary tools.
"While the first story is another reminder that we should always remember to lock our doors, the second story brings attention to the increasing nationwide trend of catalytic converter theft. A catalytic converter is a device used to reduce the emissions from an engine usually made from rare metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, or gold."
Thieves sell catalytic converters to metal recyclers for $20 to $200; the price depends on which metals the converters contain.
"The recyclers then extract the metal and resell it for as much as $6,000 an ounce," White explained. "While there are no national numbers recorded for catalytic converter thefts, the crime has increased in line with the increase in metal prices."
According to the BPD's crime analysts, ten of the thirty reported catalytic converter thefts in Berkeley occurred in a single portion of North Berkeley over the last three months. Thus he urges:
"Persons with vehicles that sit high off of the ground should consider parking their vehicles in well lit areas or protected garages if possible."