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updated: 10/16/2012 5:51 PM

Catalytic converter thefts on the rise

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A Chicago man has been charged with stealing a catalytic converter off a car in Palatine, a crime police said is on the rise in parking garages around the Northwest suburbs.

Catalytic converters, which are part of a vehicle's exhaust system, contain small amounts of precious metals that can be sold to a recycler for up to $250, police said. A thief can cut off or unbolt a converter in less than two minutes, making it difficult to catch a thief in the act.

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"This is a trend going on nationwide and we're experiencing it here as well," said Arlington Heights Police Commander Mike Hernandez.

Since July 2011 Arlington Heights has seen 22 catalytic converter thefts from cars, with many of the thefts taking place in garages in the downtown area, Hernandez said.

On Oct. 9, Palatine police charged Scott Gilmore, of Chicago, with one count of felony theft and one count of misdemeanor attempted theft. Police said he was caught in the act of stealing a catalytic converter in a village parking garage. Police had been monitoring the garage after a recent rash of catalytic converter thefts.

Gilmore also admitted to stealing a catalytic converter from the same garage on Oct. 7, they said.

According to police reports, Gilmore was caught with a reciprocating saw and 19 replacement blades.

Arlington Heights police said they are investigating whether Gilmore had a hand in the thefts there as well, but so far haven't been able to directly tie him to those crimes.

Palatine Commander Mike Seebacher said a majority of thefts in town have been happening in garages as well, including the parking garage near the Palatine Metra station.

Police suggest parking in well-lit areas or etching the car's license plate number on the converter, which could make it easier to track down. Hernandez said the majority of the cars in question were SUVs because it is easier for a thief to crawl underneath and cut off the converter.

"It's just a crime of opportunity," Hernandez added. "Most of the time these converters are being taken a night, it's a relatively quick operation."

If a converter is stolen, Hernandez said it can cost up to $1,000 to replace.

There are also catalytic converter theft deterrent systems on the market that can slow down a thief, Seebacher said.

"It's not as simple as locking your doors," he said.

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