Berkeley Police Officer Byron White is the Operations Division Area Coordinator for Area 1.
Catalytic Converter Thefts
Over time, the City of Berkeley Police Department has noticed a pattern of theft of catalytic converters throughout the city—much like other parts of country.
A catalytic converter is a piece of the vehicle’s exhaust system (made of precious metals) that converts toxic emissions to less toxic substances. Because of the rising values of precious metals over time, catalytic converter thefts (as well as the theft of other items containing precious metals—such as brass railings, auto gates, etc.) have become a cost-effective means for suspects to turn a quick buck. From what I understand, a person who steals a catalytic converter can get up to $200 per device.
The typical Modus Operandi of the catalytic converter suspect in the City of Berkeley is a suspect operating during the nighttime hours—taking advantage of shadows and darkness of the night.
The suspect will most likely be equipped with a reciprocating saw (aka: saber saw, sawzall) and some form of bag or backpack to carry the saw and stolen catalytic converters. Catalytic converter theft suspects may be walking on foot, riding a bicycle, or driving a vehicle. When the suspect identifies a vehicle to steal the catalytic converter from, the suspect lies down underneath the rear of the vehicle at the tail pipe. The suspect then utilizes their reciprocating saw to simply cut the catalytic converter from the tail pipe.
According to Edmunds.com, a suspect can steal your catalytic converter in under two minutes. The most commonly hit vehicles are SUVs and trucks, especially late-model Toyotas, because they sit higher off the ground—making for easier access.
Auto burglary smash-and-grabs
Much like catalytic converter theft suspects, smash-and-grab auto burglary suspects also operate during darkness. Instead of taking the time to actually break a window, open the door, and get into a vehicle, these snatch & grab auto burglary suspects will simply break a window, reach inside the vehicle, and take whatever is visible within arm’s reach.
One might think that the breaking of a window would cause lots of noise for persons in the area to notice, but these snatch & grab auto burglary suspects are much more clever than that. Suspects today are resorting to using tricks to muffle the noise—like putting a towel against the window or using spark plugs to break the window (there is a type of reaction between the materials found in spark plugs and the vehicle windows—causing the window to break). Because of methods like these, auto burglary suspects can burglarize your vehicle in moments. To combat this, make sure you do not leave any valuables visible in your vehicle.
Over time, the County of Alameda has noticed a county-wide increase of auto thefts. According to the Alameda County Regional Auto Theft Task Force, late 80’s model Honda Accords, Honda Civics, and Toyota Camrys top the list of most stolen vehicles.
In addition to making sure your possessions are secured, parking in well-lit areas, and using anti-theft devices (steering wheel locks, etc.) one of the best methods for preventing crimes such as these, is to promptly report suspicious activity to the police department.
What is a suspicious person?
- Someone going door-to-door in the neighborhood or wandering with no purpose. Anyone can walk on our streets, but looking into cars, home windows, or down a driveway is known as “casing.”
- Someone wandering or loitering in the halls of a business complex or office complex and you do not recognize the person, or they do not appear to have legitimate business—know your neighbors and neighboring businesses/employees.
- Slow moving cars, cars driving without headlights, or someone conducting business from a car.
- When someone is paying an unusual amount of attention to the people or places around himself/herself. The persons may be preparing to commit a criminal act when no one is watching.
- Someone lingering in dark or obscured areas. Criminals want to be unseen and anonymous.
- When someone flees or runs away from a car or home when they notice you are watching or have seen them.
- Persons walking or bicycling down the street carrying property or household items in an awkward manner.
- When someone screams and you cannot determine why the person is screaming.
- You see someone removing property or materials from a closed business or at unusual hours.
- A stranger entering a neighbor’s home or business when your neighbor appears away from home or work.
- If you hear unusual noises that you cannot explain—like breaking glass or pounding noises.
When and how to report suspicious events
The police need accurate information as quickly as possible about suspicious activity or crimes in progress. Call the police immediately. If a criminal activity has occurred, the police can only catch the criminal when we are notified in a timely manner.
In Berkeley, dial 911 or 981-5911 from your cell for emergencies and/or crimes in progress. Dial 981-5900 to make a delayed or after the fact report. Reports can be made anonymously if you wish. Give the dispatcher as much information as you can, including the following:
- Briefly describe what you saw and why you think the event is suspicious.
- Location where you saw the event (address, building description, direction they were going, etc.)
- Describe the person(s) involved from top to bottom (sex, race, height, weight, age, hair, clothing, etc.)
- Describe any cars involved or if you heard a car, including the license plate number.
For more tips, visit the Berkeley Police Department website.