Shelton police adopt new tactic against catalytic converter thefts

SHELTON — Catalytic converters remain a top target among thieves nationwide, and city law enforcement is stepping up efforts to educate residents on protecting this expensive car part. 

Shelton police recently purchased 150 CATGUARD/CATETCH catalytic converter label ID kits. The kits allow owners to register an identification number on their catalytic converter to a national police database. Police are distributing them to local senior citizens. 

The department is among the first in the state to promote use of this kit, Shelton police said. 

“This is a nationwide problem,” said Lt. Robert Kozlowsky. “We wanted to do more than just be reactive. We want to be more proactive in crime prevention and helping to reduce these crimes. We believe this will help."

Kozlowsky added the program is also "about educating the public on this problem.” 

According to the National Automotive Dealers Association, the number of catalytic converter thefts reported in insurance company claims has greatly increased over the past three years, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that these thefts increased by 326 percent in 2020 and increased another 353 percent in 2021. 

Stolen catalytic converters can garner anywhere from $20 to $350 on the black market, with the replacement cost to vehicle owners averaging more than $2,500. 

The top 10 vehicles targeted by catalytic converter thieves are 2001-2019 Toyota Prius; 1988-2018 Honda Accord; 1992-2020 Toyota Camry; 1997-2019 Honda CR-V; 1998-2020 Subaru Forester; 1988-2022 Ford Econoline; 2000-2020 Chevrolet Impala; 2001-2021 Ford Escape; 1993-2018 Nissan Altima; and the 1996-2019 Nissan Sentra. 

Catalytic converters are easy to steal, Kozlowsky said, but generally difficult to trace to a specific vehicle, which allows these car parts to be sold on the black market. 

The lack of traceable identifying marks makes the theft of catalytic converters difficult to curb, Kozlowsky said. But this new ID kit will help identify a catalytic converter if it is stolen and later recovered, he said.

He said scrap dealers will also have access to the database to check any catalytic converter which has the etched code on it. 

Officer John Staples, the department’s school resource officer and crime prevention officer, held a presentation on catalytic converter preventive theft tips at the Shelton Senior Center in late December. 

“This will not prevent thieves from cutting the catalytic converter off (from the vehicle), but it links that catalytic converter to the right owner,” Staples said. “Secondly, if the thieves see the number, the might be apprehensive to steal that one because it is marked.” 

Among the theft prevention tips Staples offered include installing a car alarm that activates when vibration is detected; park in a well-lit area; park vehicles in a garage if possible; park close to curbs, reducing access to the underside of the vehicle; and park in locations with high visibility. 

In addition to providing tips, Staples handed out 75 CATETCH kits to those in attendance. The vehicle information of a catalytic converter with a registered CATETCH/CATGUARD label is available by scanning the QR code or online. 

This allows law enforcement to have access to full owner and vehicle information to assist with investigations through a law enforcement database. 

"We’re constantly doing research on how to better prevent crimes,” Kozlowsky said. “We are no different than any other town faced with this. We’re trying to be proactive and find solutions beyond traditional ones.” 

Kozlowsky said he learned that mainly larger police departments across the country are using this company and its catalytic converter etching equipment. 

“This is unique for us,” said Kozlowsky, adding that the department is not affiliated or in any way officially connected with the company that manufactures and sells the kits. “We are trying to help educate the public on how to better protect their vehicles.”