Skip to main content

Edmonton police offering $50K to innovator who can slow down catalytic converter thieves

Share

Edmonton police are stumped. 

Over three years, catalytic converter thefts have increased by 219 per cent. In 2021, more than 2,500 were stolen in Alberta's capital city and likely sold elsewhere for the precious metals found inside. 

A trifecta of factors make catalytic converters a prime target: the metals have rocketed in value, catalytic converters are relatively easy to steal, and the punishment for thieves who are caught – and, say, charged with possession of stolen property – is relatively minor. 

"They're out, basically, the next day," is how Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee put it Wednesday while making a plea for help from the public. 

Speaking in downtown Edmonton, he announced a $50,000 reward to the entrepreneur or entrepreneurs who come up with a viable method of preventing catalytic converter thefts. 

"The criminal justice solution and catching people isn't the ultimate answer here. We need to look at something different," he told reporters. 

"How do you make these in front of you very hard to steal? Almost impossible to steal?" 

BUSINESS OF CATALYTIC CONVERTERS

A catalytic converter is a device that converts gases and pollutants in a vehicle's exhaust into less toxic pollutants. The platinum, palladium and rhodium inside the part are all involved in the conversion process. 

All three metals have seen their value grow in recent years. 

The most valuable is rhodium. According to gold company Kitco, rhodium doubled in price between 2018 and 2019 to about US$5,500 per ounce. It peaked around US$26,000 per ounce in early 2021 and has recently been selling around US$14,000 per ounce. 

Palladium grew from about US$1,300 per ounce in 2019 to over US$2,000 per ounce in 2022. 

Over the same years, platinum's per-ounce price climbed from roughly US$800 to more than $910, briefly touching $1,200 in early 2021. 

Stolen converters are typically sold to scrap dealers, netting a couple hundred dollars for the seller. 

Meanwhile, vehicle owners are out up to $3,000 to replace their missing part. 

McFee estimated catalytic converter thefts cost Edmontonians $13 million each year. 

"For those that say this isn't important and doesn't need to be dealt with, I think they're missing the point," he commented. 

Vehicles and neighbourhoods of all kinds are targeted, from SUVs to motor homes. 

"It's a crime of opportunity," McFee said. "The best success on that is actually take the opportunity away." 

ABOUT THE CHALLENGE

Edmonton Police Service is asking the public for ideas after failing to dent the trend in any other way, including targeted enforcement and taking out "key players." 

Some band-aid solutions exist, like better video surveillance or getting a converter serialized, but neither save an Edmontonian the inconvenience and expense of having to replace a stolen converter, McFee pointed out. 

"Perhaps there's some bright, young, entrepreneur out there – or entrepreneurs – that can find a way that can reduce these things just like we did in liquor store thefts and robberies," the chief said. 

Edmonton's police department has turned to the public like this before. In 2020, facing a 290 per cent increase in liquor store thefts, up to $250,000 was put up as a reward for ideas which could de-incentivize thieves. According to McFee, there has been a 95 per cent drop in thefts at the handful of stores where ID scanners were installed at entrances. The project was a brainchild of the local MacEwan University's Social Innovation Institute. 

It was the first so-called challenge of the program put on by the Edmonton Police Foundation (EPF), titled Community Solutions Accelerator (CSA). 

"It was the same kind of predicament in the sense that we had tried a whole bunch of things, nothing was seeming to work, and so we launched the accelerator, threw the challenge out there to the world," recalled EPF chair Ashif Mawji. "We had over 200 entries from over 20 countries that applied. Even institutions like MIT, grads from there, had applied."

Submissions for the catalytic converter challenge, the fourth of the CSA program, will be accepted from Wednesday to Nov. 30. It is possible more than one winner could be named. 

The full contest rules and guidelines are available online

"Once the solution works and you've got your first customer in Edmonton, guess what?" Mawji said. "This is a problem not just in Edmonton... They can sell that solution around the world."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dave Ewasuk

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

opinion

opinion Biden's debate debacle levels playing field with Trump

In one week, Donald Trump will officially accept his party’s nomination, becoming the standard-bearer for the GOP in November. A recent Supreme Court immunity ruling combined with a failed debate performance by President Joe Biden has seen the Republican challenger’s fortunes rise exponentially.

Ellen DeGeneres is 'done' after her Netflix special

Ellen DeGeneres has reportedly said she's ready to tap out of performing. The former daytime talk show host let that be known during a recent standup show at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, California.

Stay Connected