Paul Debler of Newbury Park has been beaten twice by ‘cat thieves’.
About a year ago his Prius was parked on the street overnight and thieves sawed off his catalytic converter. Taking precautions, he began to park in his driveway overnight, expecting to hear sawing, or at least deter thieves who feared being overheard, but the thieves struck again in December.
âIt’s not a car we use every day, so I didn’t find out about the problem until a week later,â Debler said. “When I started the car, it sounded like a Harley Davidson on steroids, and it smelled like exhaust.” It cost over $ 3,000 to replace the part and repair the damage.
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When he reported the crime, police told him there had been four more thefts of catalytic converters in the neighborhood the previous weekend. Now it has a video surveillance system and a light triggered by a motion detector.
On the recommendation of his mechanic, he also participated in a free program offered by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in select cities and available to county residents.
The program, called “Etch and Catch,” involves engraving the car’s registration number and spray painting the Sheriff’s Office logo on the catalytic converter. When police stop vehicles carrying marked catalytic converters, the identifying information allows for a quick match with victims.
Fast connections allow victims to avoid paying the $ 500 fee that many repair shops charge for purchasing a new catalytic converter without handing over an old one, and the burn also helps prosecutors.
“The arraignment must take place within 72 hours of the arrest,” said Ojai-based sheriff’s detective Scott Reeder. âWe give the district attorney an open and closed case when we find stolen property and immediately associate it with a victim. “
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The Oxnard Police Department also sponsored the program.
Even without labeling, police can detain suspects, examine theft reports, and find victims, but the job is time consuming.
Sheriff’s deputies made two such arrests in July after responding to a 911 call from a Meiners Oaks woman who heard noises at 3:30 a.m. and looked out the window to see a man under her Prius and a second man inside a moving SUV.
When MPs searched a vehicle matching the reported description, they found narcotics, burglary tools and four stolen catalytic converters. The next day, as MPs received reports from neighboring residents, they returned the stolen parts to the victims.
âCat scratch tagging programs are spreading to more and more cities,â said Senior Vice President Mike Baker. These are typically day-long events involving cars lining up for burning at a police station. In Ventura County the program is better.
âTo make the program more convenient and ubiquitous, our staff worked with local repair shops to provide free engraving,â said Sheriff Bill Ayub. The sheriff’s office provided each participating store with supplies, including aluminum stencils, donated by AbaCorp, a machine tool maker in Moorpark.
For around $ 135, several mechanics also attach metal fixtures to exhaust systems, making it harder to remove catalytic converters, but, according to senior assistant Becky Purnell, repair shops in Moorpark don’t require a additional paid work to provide the free burning service.
As the program develops, policies will vary. In Camarillo, two stores offer free engraving only in conjunction with other paid services, according to Camarillo Police Chief Eric Tennessen.
Local scrap recyclers and auto salvage yards deny the purchase of catalytic converters. For their part, it’s not worth the risk.
Local scrap metal buyers also follow state-imposed guarantees to avoid reveling in theft. Bringing metal to a junkyard no longer earns instant cash for recyclers. Instead, recyclers must show ID and return within three days or wait for a check in the mail.
SA Recycling at Oxnard and Standard Industries in Ventura, the two largest local metal recycling companies, are also cooperating with police, reporting that the incoming metal matches photos of stolen items.
You can report a crime anonymously at 800-222-TIPS (8477). Rewards of up to $ 1,000 are paid for reports leading to prosecution.
David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Environmental Resources Analyst, can be reached at [email protected] or 805-658-4312.