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Campus sees rise in catalytic converter thefts

As reports of catalytic converter thefts increase on campus and across the nation, deputy chief of the Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) Bill Thompson said these crimes are nothing new.

“There’s nothing particularly new about catalytic converter theft,” he said. “It’s something that’s been happening, frankly, since they started putting catalytic converters on cars decades ago.” 

Catalytic converters filter pollutants in exhaust emissions and turn them into harmless gasses. What makes these converters valuable is the presence of three metals: palladium, platinum and rhodium. Rhodium can be sold for up to $20,000 per ounce, according to USA Today

“The popularity of the crime goes up and down depending on the relative values of the metals inside the catalytic converters,” Thompson said. “[Notre Dame has] had more instances of it over the last few months than we have had in the last year or two.”

This spike in campus occurrences is reflected across the country. Catalytic converter theft claims increased by 326% in 2020 and by 353% in 2021, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).  As crews have acquired more sophisticated equipment, the time it takes to cut out the part from the exhaust has become increasingly fast.

 “For a crew that’s well equipped and knows what they are doing, they can be in and out in less than a couple of minutes from the time they start working on the car,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said drivers can instantly recognize if the converter is missing as soon as they start driving.

“You’ll know almost immediately because your car is going to sound really really loud like there’s no muffler on it at all,” Thompson said. “You can run it and certainly run it long enough to get repaired … but you wouldn’t want to sit and idle in that condition because the unfiltered exhaust fumes are going to be coming right up into the passenger compartment.” 

Before getting the vehicle repaired, Thompson encourages students to contact NDPD so that they can direct more resources to the issue. 

Perpetrators are not necessarily local. During the summer a crew from Chicago committed a series of thefts on campus and across the greater South Bend area, Thompson said. They initially left town and eluded authorities. However, a few weeks later, they wound up getting caught through a joint investigation by NDPD and the South Bend Police Department. The previous crimes were all linked to this particular crew.

Catalytic converter thefts are a “crime of opportunity,” Thompson said. This means it is difficult to take action to prevent it.

“It’s more of a community mindset about always being aware of your surroundings, taking in what looks like it fits in and what doesn’t,” Thompson said. “If a student sees a car cruising through a parking lot or cruising around campus slowly and it just doesn’t look right, give us a call.”

Contact Kate Naessens at knaessen@nd.edu.