BARRHEAD - Theft of catalytic converters is on the rise in the Barrhead region since the start of 2023 as the Barrhead RCMP have received reports of nine such thefts, including one from a County of Barrhead vehicle.
A catalytic converter is a device in a vehicle's exhaust system that converts toxic pollutants into less harmful gases before expelling them through the tailpipe.
Sgt. Bob Dodds noted the devices are a tempting target for thieves because they contain small amounts of precious metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium, the latter two of which fetch a higher price than gold on the commodities market.
He also noted that the devices take relatively little time for experienced thieves to steal.
"They can do it in a minute or even less and get relatively little for their efforts, the damage and the cost to the vehicle owner are considerable," Dodds said.
Depending on the vehicle and the damage done, replacing a stolen catalytic converter can cost hundreds, if not thousands.
"In that respect, it is very similar to copper wire thieves," he said.
Dodds added they believe they know the culprits, but it is a case where police need to catch the would-be thieves "red-handed".
However, given the police's limited resources, that is easier said than done.
"It's the old story that we can't be everywhere all the time," he said, adding that criminals often target less travelled areas, such as Barrhead's industrial area and business yards, under the cloak of darkness when there is not a lot of public activity.
As for preventative measures, Dodds said they are the same as for other crimes, suggesting people install motion lights, monitored camera systems and securing their yard sites.
"We've had some real successes of late of being able to apprehend criminals because businesses are using these camera systems," he said, referring to an incident in late February when Barrhead RCMP, with the help of officers from the Parkland Detachment, were able to arrest three individuals involved in stealing copper wire from multiple oil and gas sites.
Dodds also noted the RCMP is working with the Barrhead Area Regional Crime Coalition (BARCC) to create other preventative strategies to combat catalytic converter theft.
BARCC is a partnership between Woodlands County, the Town of Barrhead and the County of Barrhead, as well as the Barrhead RCMP and Rural Crime Watch.
Town of Barrhead mayor Dave McKenzie, the municipality's representative on BARCC, said the organization is looking into an initiative where vehicle owners could go to their local automotive dealerships, automotive repair and tire shops and get their catalytic converters engraved and painted with the vehicle's identification number (VIN).
"It is really more of a Rural Crime Watch initiative," he said, noting that the organization would purchase the engraving and etching equipment and loan it to participating automotive businesses.
"So people could come in when they are doing some service done, or new tires, they would engrave the catalytic converters and add some heat resistant paint to be more visible, but it is still in the planning stage," McKenzie said.
He added they are looking at patterning the program after one by the City of Leduc, which partnered with several automotive businesses to provide the free etching service.
The municipality also amended their business licence bylaw to help regulate the trade of catalytic converters.
Under the bylaw, individuals found with an unattached catalytic converter must have a valid licence for an automotive repair or auto parts supply and transport business or a permit from the RCMP. Those who cannot provide one of these documents when found with an unattached converter may be fined $1,000 per catalytic converter.
However, Dodds said until society comes up with a solution to drug addiction, measures to combat catalytic converter theft and other property crimes are only a band-aid solution.
"It is all tied to our addictions problem. If we could solve that, we could knock down our catalytic converter and copper wire thefts as well as all other property crime," he said. "Because the same people who are stealing these catalytic converter thefts are the same ones that are buying meth from the (dealers) we hit last week."