Since December, Madison has seen an increase in the number of car part thefts from parked vehicles, according to a city statement.
According to the statement, 24 cases have been reported in the greater Madison area recently.
Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said catalytic converters, emission control devices located on the underside of cars, are often stolen because they contain many precious metals, which thieves can then try to sell to scrap yards.
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, agreed with DeSpain and said the increase in car part thefts is the display of a “crime of opportunity.”
Metal theft is a problem not only in Madison but throughout the whole country, Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4 said. It has been a problem over the past few years as the metal value has increased, he added.
The statement said trucks and SUVs have been targeted in the majority of the cases since they are most easily accessible through crawling. The cases since December have shown a particular concentration towards Toyota 4-runners, with 15 of the 24 cases involving them, the statement said.
However, while Toyota 4Runner cars are being targeted, almost all areas of Madison have been hit at random, the statement said.
The University of Wisconsin has a specific problem with these thefts in their largest surface parking lot, Lot 60, which is located on the west side of campus between the UW hospital and the Natatorium, Verveer said. He attributed the concentration of thefts due to the lot’s large size and secluded nature.
The UW Police Department provided extra patrols to this area and other campus parking facilities to be on the lookout for catalytic converter thieves, Verveer said.
Verveer added that these thefts are not only hazardous to the victims’ safety but are also have a high financial cost.
According to DeSpain, the stealing of catalytic converters is not a new crime. There was a similar spike in these thefts in Madison in 2007, he said.
“After some arrests were made and two or three people were taken off the streets, the number of thefts fell,” DeSpain said. “I expect the same thing to happen this time.”
In addition to the increase in patrol, DeSpain said MPD contacted scrap yard owners and has asked them to notify the department if anyone brings catalytic converters so they can try to identify those that are involved in the crime, DeSpain said.
As a preventative measure, people can get their vehicle number etched onto the catalytic converter, so if it is stolen, it will be easier to retrieve, DeSpain said.
Additionally, the City Council recently adopted an ordinance requiring all scrap metal dealers in Madison to electronically report all of their purchases online to the police department, Verveer said. Scrap dealers must also request identification from the seller and have video surveillance before making a transaction, he said.
“I’m hoping through this ordinance that the stolen property can be returned to its rightful owner and further that the thieves that are involved in this would be identified and brought to justice,” Verveer said.