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'You Etch It, We Catch It': Leduc RCMP launches program to curb catalytic converter theft

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Leduc RCMP and the City of Leduc have launched a program to try and stop the theft of catalytic converters.

“You Etch It, We Catch It” will see partner businesses offer to etch a Vehicle Identification Number into catalytic converters free of charge.

“The VIN serves as an identifier that will assist police in confirming the stolen part and returning the property to the rightful owner,” said Insp. Jeff McBeth.

According to the RCMP, catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise over the past few years. In 2019, there were 29 reports of catalytic converter thefts in Leduc.That number jumped to 106 in 2020, and this year there have been 150 reports of the thefts.

The RCMP added that catalytic converter thefts are happening all over the province, and it’s nearly impossible to prosecute the crime, or identify the converters.

“Officers have on occasion caught suspects with catalytic converters in their possession, however they’ve been unable to prove that they were stolen,” McBeth said. “This also means we are unable to return them to their rightful owners, due to the lack of identifying information.”

Catalytic converters can be removed from a vehicle in seconds, and sold for the metals inside, like platinum and palladium.

“It’s easy money,” McBeth said. “It’s very quick to do. It’s such a quick crime, and then you can flee the area before anybody really knows what’s happening.”

“It’s just another way criminals are developing, but we too have to step up our game in policing, and continue to get one step ahead of them.”

Participating businesses include Fountain Tire, Kal Tire, Canadian Tire, DK Ford, Leduc Chrysler, Jeep Dodge, Leduc Hyundai, LA Nissan, and Schwab Chevrolet Buick GMC. The businesses have been provided etching tools by the City of Leduc and will offer the service for free.

Leduc city council is also working toward creating a bylaw that would make it illegal to be in possession of a catalytic converter without proof of ownership. The RCMP said this would help hold criminals accountable for the thefts, even if they do manage to grind off the VIN etching.

‘SO DISHEARTENING’

“This is an issue we’ve seen [become] a trend across the entire province,” said Cpl. Deanna Fontaine.

Edmonton is no exception. In 2020, there were 1,626 catalytic converter thefts reported to Edmonton police. According to the EPS, that number had been surpassed by August of this year.

Because the part is underneath the vehicle, it can be hard to tell if a theft has taken place – and the damage can be extensive.

“The car was working fine, it was starting fine, it was sounding fine,” said Alex Paikada, whose catalytic converter was stolen last year. “And then literally 30 minutes after we were about to go home, me and my family get in the car, I started it up and it sounded like a rocket ship.”

Edmonton’s Food Bank also recently reported the theft of catalytic converters from two of their delivery trucks, during their busiest time of year.

In an email to CTV News, the Food Bank said the robbery on Saturday was the sixth time they’ve been targeted. It estimates each theft costs between $2,500 and $3,500 per vehicle.

“All of this is just so disheartening,” said Tamisan Bencz-Knight with the Food Bank. “We lose productivity in addition to the costs of fixing the units.”

The RCMP is hoping the “You Etch It, We Catch It” program will serve as a template for other municipalities and RCMP detachments, to tackle the issue of catalytic converter thefts province-wide.  

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