BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – As catalytic converter thefts rev up, Polk County school officials say a recent burglary cost the district “precious resources.”
“These vehicle parts are expensive, and replacing them costs precious resources of time and money, which could be spent supporting our students and schools,” Polk County Public Schools spokesperson Kyle Kennedy wrote in a statement. “It’s unfortunate we have to deal with this kind of theft and criminal activity.”
According to the Bartow Police Department, a thief stole catalytic converters from 10 school vehicles at a warehouse located on Highway 60 in Bartow in the early morning hours of Sunday, Nov. 28.
Security video shows one person walking around work vans.
Police say the person gained access by cutting a hole in a chain-linked fence.
“There was a hole cut in and we had 10 catalytic converters taken from our vehicles there. Unfortunately, it seems to be a trend that’s going on in south Florida but it’s spread much more than that,” said Capt. Lauro Diaz with Bartow police.
Catalytic converters are used to control exhaust emissions and are located between a vehicle’s engine and muffler. Thieves can steal the converters in minutes and sell the precious metals at a high price.
Experts say it is obvious to them when someone is describing a catalytic converter theft.
“Sometimes they don’t even realize that’s what’s happened. They get in the car. They turn the key and they fire it up and it starts like a dragster. It’s just loud,” said Joe Sulins, owner of Main Street Auto & Tire.
He says when customers come in with a missing catalytic converter, he sends them to an exhaust specialist.
“To do a repair can easily cost $700 to $800 to replace it so it’s an expensive cost to the public when it has to be fixed,” said Sulins.
While some may see a downside to sharing information about the location and value of catalytic converters, Capt. Daiz says the real way to prevent the crimes is to arrest the people responsible.
“It’s not a secret what a catalytic converter is. It’s not a secret how hard it is to take off the vehicle but what is a secret is who the criminal element is,” said Capt. Diaz.
Police ask anyone with information on this incident to contact Det. Lewis (863)534-0404.