Thieves target commuters' cars in Indiana

May 12, 2008 3:35:24 PM PDT
South Shore Train commuters are warned about a string of recent thefts involving car parts. The thieves are stealing catalytic converters from vehicles left in commuter parking lots at the South Shore Train Line in northwest Indiana.

Similar thefts are on the rise across the country, according to officials. The convertors get about $250 when sold as scrap metal, but it costs much more for a car owner to replace them.

Northwest Indiana Transit police have stepped up patrols to try to catch the suspects, who have been videotaped by surveillance cameras at an East Chicago commuter lot. The video shows three suspects vandalizing a car in the parking lot.

"They can come in and within 10 minutes steal from several vehicles," said Chief Robert Byrd, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

About a dozen vehicles have been vandalized in the past two weeks. And, according to Chief Byrd, there's nothing a car owner can do.

"We need more security camera and people to monitor them- not just clear them out at the end of the day," said Jim Spitz, commuter.

"Cars are broken into, that's an issue that concerns me," said Jameca Lockett, commuter.

Investigators said in the most recent case, the thieves used a car trunk as cover while they literally cut out a vehicle's catalytic converter, which is part of a vehicle's emissions and exhaust system. Police say thieves steal them because they contain valuable metals which can be turned into fast cash.

"The catalytic converters have precious metals... And, because of that that can be sold for more than standard scrap," said Chief Byrd.

"They'll go and cut here and take the converter here," said Jeff Hoekstra, owner of Hoekstra Service.

Replacing the catalytic converter can cost thousands of dollars, according to Jeff Hoekstra, owner of Hoekstra Service.

"Sometimes the catalyst can go anywhere from $200 to $500-- and (the thieves) may do hundreds of dollars in other damage," said Hoekstra.

Some scrap dealers are no longer accepting catalytic convertors. However, those that do are creating a strong market for the piece. Chief Byrd said the department's next move may be getting local scrap dealers and scrap shops to agree to surveillance until the thieves are caught.


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