On Jan. 3, four catalytic converters were stolen from KO buses. This is the second time that these converters have been taken from school vehicles, as during the summer of 2021, six catalytic converters were stolen from campus.
Catalytic converters are part of the exhaust system of vehicles, located between the engine and the muffler. They remove harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide, and convert them into less harmful substances such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, creating a cleaner exhaust. The removal of this element leaves the vehicle inoperable.
These thefts have become a big problem nationally for schools and companies, as well as in neighborhoods. This is because catalytic converters contain precious metals such as rhodium, platinum, and palladium, which are of high value on the black market, resale, or any other secondary markets. Police departments across the country have formed task forces dedicated to preventing these thefts and catching the perpetrators.
For example, the Olympic Division of the LAPD held an event devoted to the deterrent of these thefts. LA citizens brought their cars to a tow yard where police officers etched the vehicle’s VIN number into its catalytic converter. This makes it easier for the police department to track the converter and the thief if it was ever stolen.
The first robbery caught KO by surprise and, therefore, there was nothing they could do to catch the thieves or retrieve the stolen converters. No new protocols or systems were instituted after the event, as it was believed to be an isolated incident.
The second robbery, though detrimental to KO property, did illuminate new facts about the case. According to Director of Facilities Justin Wolfradt, the second theft was caught on camera. “It’s not students, and it’s not kids. These are professionals,” he said. “They were in and out very quickly.”
It is also possible that stealing from the buses was a strategic choice. “The police department said that they generally go for trucks or buses or larger vehicles because they’re easier to get underneath and they want to make it as easy as possible for themselves,” Mr. Wolfradt said. “A truck is suspended a little higher, so there’s easier access.”
The school currently has plans to install Cat Shields on all KO vehicles. A Cat Shield is an aluminum plate that is designed to deter theft while still having sufficient ventilation to keep the catalytic converter working properly.
Currently, all one would need to remove the converter is a common household saw called a Sawzall. It is a simple-to-use saw that cuts easily through tough substances such as metal, making it the perfect tool for removing these pieces of equipment.
While an improvement, the Cat Shield is not a perfect solution. “If they’re determined to get it, they’re going to get it,” Mr. Wolfradt said. The school is continuing to explore other methods of theft deterrent though, so far, none seem to be foolproof.