Catalytic converter thefts surge about 1000 percent in Seattle

SEATTLE — A big problem in Western Washington is getting worse – the theft of catalytic converters.

It’s something impacting every community with thieves hitting churches, senior centers, apartment buildings and even Seattle Humane.

Four of their transport vans were missing their catalytic converters Friday morning. It happened just as they were about to head to Boeing Field to pick up kittens and cats flown in from Mississippi.

“We are using them all the time, whether it’s for transporting animals between shelters, whether it’s delivering pet food from our pet food bank,” said Brandon Macz of Seattle Humane. “It was very unfortunate this happened,” he said.

Seattle Humane still managed to pick up the pets and nearby auto shop, Automeister in Issaquah, said they would donate the labor to fix the vehicles.

The crime is getting increasingly more common. Preliminary data from Seattle Police show there were only a handful of cases in 2018, but that number exploded to more than 700 in 2020 – a greater than 900 percent from 2018. The thefts are continuing to surge in 2021 and if the trend so far this year continues, 2021 is on track to double last year’s thefts

2018 - 8

2019 - 13

2020 – 738

2021 – 123 (as of 1/26/21)

A man in Fremont this week managed to stop what appeared to be a catalytic converter theft crime in progress.

He’s seen in video running outside with a baseball bat, shouting “What are you doing? Huh? Huh??” and bashing a vehicle with the bat.

“My adrenaline was going,” said Gerard Thai, who shared his security camera video that caught the incident with KIRO7. “I had no idea they were trying to steal the catalytic converter. I thought they were trying to steal the car,” he said.

Thai said his Ring alarm woke him up – and it’s not the first time he’s had trouble – so he went downstairs armed with a baseball bat.

He said he watched two men work for a minute.

“One of them was jacking the car up,” Thai said. “And they left the drill behind the tire so the car wouldn’t roll back,” he said.

That’s when Thai made his move, running in swinging.

“I hit the passenger side front window, smashed that out, then the back window,” Thai said.

The would-be burglars got back in the car and speed away -- leaving so fast, they abandoned their tools behind.

“This was their drill. Yeah, they left the car up in the air, so I got a jack,” Thai said.

The Prius – the vehicle mostly commonly targeted by catalytic converter thieves -- is damaged but with the converter intact, it’s still drivable.

The King County Sheriff’s Office says a Prius catalytic converter will sell for about $1100 on places like Offer Up.

Buyers are going for the precious metals inside the car part, including rhodium, platinum, and palladium. The most valuable of the three is rhodium - by weight worth 15x more than gold and 30x more than cocaine.

KIRO7′s Deedee Sun asked Thai if he thought twice about approaching two men outside his apartment.

“I wasn’t really worried because they’re there to take a catalytic converter, not hold someone up,” he said.

But Thai said just in case.

“I had a firearm in my pocket,” he said.

The King County Sheriff’s Office says you can get something like a “cat clamp” or cover to protect your vehicle. It won’t stop a really determined thief but it does slow them down -- so someone might take a look and move on to the next car.

The sheriff’s office advises for businesses that have a fleet of cars, to invest in something like a fence or security if possible.

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