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UMaine a target in ring of catalytic converter thefts

University of Maine students have recently fallen victim to a rise in catalytic converter thefts, which were stolen from cars parked on the Orono campus. Over the weekend of Friday, Oct. 21 to Sunday, Oct. 23, there were 10 reported thefts, seven of which were reported between the late hours of Friday evening and Saturday morning.

A catalytic converter is a device incorporated into the exhaust system of a vehicle. The device uses a catalyst to convert three harmful compounds in the car exhaust into harmless compounds when leaving the car. These compounds include hydrocarbons in the form of unburned gasoline, carbon monoxide formed by the combustion of the engine and nitrogen oxides created when heat in the engine forces nitrogen in the air to combine with oxygen. Hydrocarbons produce smog, carbon monoxide is a poison for animals and nitrogen oxides lead to smog and acid rain.

The most popular precious metals inside the catalytic converter are platinum, palladium and rhodium. These metals are highly valuable and have become a popular commodity for thieves because of how easy they are to steal and the lack of identifying markings on catalytic converters. Once a catalytic converter is removed from a vehicle, the individual metals can be sold for hundreds of dollars.

“The catalytic converter is attached to the muffler, and the thieves are using power saws because it’s a clean cut,” University of Maine Police Chief Roland LaCroix stated. “The older model cars are the ones [they’re after].”
According to LaCroix, the vehicles being targeted are typically between the years of 1996 and 2004. The thefts seen on the Orono campus included six Hondas, two Acuras and two Chevrolet Cavaliers. UMPD is currently working with the Maine State Police and other entities on the issue and are encouraging people to call (207) 581-4040 with possible leads. The investigation is being led by UMPD Detective Keith Mercier.

When the catalytic converter is removed from a vehicle, it is essentially like taking off the muffler on a car — it will run significantly louder.

Husson University in Bangor has also seen a few thefts on their campus according to Raymond Bessette, Executive Director of Campus Safety and Security at Husson.

“It’s a crime of opportunity and is being driven by the market value of precious metals,” Bessette said.

Based on my previous law enforcement experience, when the value of certain types of metals goes up, you will see an immediate increase in these types of thefts (e.g., when the price of copper rises, you will see an increase in thefts of wire/cable, or abandoned homes being broken into in order to steal the copper piping from inside, etc.),” Bessette said.

“The answer typically lies in auditing of scrap yards records in order to trace the process back to who is bringing in this type of material for money. The next step is proving that the materials are stolen,” Bessette added.

Bessette explained that there is only one road that loops around the Husson campus that is actively patrolled by security 24/7, discouraging potential thefts.

There are no known suspects at this time — but authorities believe that this is not one person working alone, it is a group of individuals targeting specific vehicles for the precious metals.

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