CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign police detective believes a recent rash of thefts of catalytic converters from large trucks in Champaign may be the work of a larger group of thieves hitting other cities in Illinois.
Sgt. Dave Griffet said Friday that since July 27, his department had received reports that 16 vehicles had had catalytic converters cut off of them.
A catalytic converter is a component of a vehicle's exhaust system intended to reduce harmful emissions. The converters contain precious metals attractive to thieves for their recycling value.
"It's a trend that unfortunately happens all over the country and here recently has hit our cities. We've been notified by Illinois State Police intelligence websites that several jurisdictions have been plagued with the same issues," Griffet said.
Griffet said a check of local recyclers in the past week has not turned up anything of significance.
"Those things have different kinds of metals in them — platinum, palladium, rhodium," he said.
The thieves target larger vehicles that are higher off the ground — "larger trucks that they can easily get under rather quickly with a portable saw."
"They can cut it off in a matter of a minute or two, remove it, put it in a vehicle and be on their way," he said.
Among the victims in Champaign have been several U-Haul trucks, some at a rental facility on West Springfield Avenue and even more at another business on East University Avenue. A business van parked on Country Fair Drive was also hit.
Urbana police have received only one report. That was to a van belonging to Carle Hospital that was vandalized Tuesday in the 800 block of West Park Street.
Larger vehicles in poorly secured, dimly lit areas seem to be more vulnerable.
"I got a feeling these things are being transported to scrap yards farther away from here and that many different groups are targeting specific areas — those that are easily accessible, late at night and early morning, where there is not much lighting," he said.
Griffet said it could cost up to $2,000 or more to replace a catalytic converter, depending on how much damage was done in the taking.
"In some cases, they can't replace just the catalytic converter. It usually involves exhaust system piping, depending on what was taken and how it was taken. Some of these are not cheap," he said.
Chris Cunnington, office manager at Melody Music, 602 N. Country Fair Drive, C, said thieves took the catalytic converter off one of its vans Tuesday night.
"It's going to cost somewhere between $250 and $300 to fix," she said, adding the business had surveillance video of the theft. "It took 3 minutes from the time they pulled into the parking lot to the time they left."
Cunnington said the van is still driveable, but is loud.
Griffet urged owners of fleet vehicles to park them in secure areas with good lighting.