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Catalytic converters stolen from students’ cars, culprit still at large

Thefts of catalytic converters have been a regular occurrence on campus since the beginning of this semester. According to Mike Beneke, Associate Director of Security, nine converter thefts have been reported to Campus Security so far.

Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system. Through chemical reactions, they help to convert the toxic gases produced by a car’s engine into more benign pollutants.

Most catalytic converters contain precious metals such as palladium, rhodium, and platinum. These precious metals make catalytic converters a common target for theft.

Because they only work at a high temperature, catalytic converters are normally located underneath the vehicle. This position makes them vulnerable to theft as the entire catalytic converter can be cut out from under the car.

Most cars can be driven without a catalytic converter without damaging the engine or car. However, a car without a catalytic converter will sound much louder than a car with one installed because the converters reduce sound from the exhaust.

Driving without a catalytic converter greatly increases the amount of air pollution a car produces. Due to environmental regulations, it is illegal to drive without a functioning catalytic converter in the state of Maine.

According to Benecke, the College has taken measures to prevent further thefts on campus by increasing patrols in the parking lots. They do not know who is responsible for the thefts.

Benecke said there are some measures that students can take to prevent theft on their vehicles.

“You can purchase anti-theft guards for converters,” he said. “Also, [it’s important to keep] an eye out for anything that looks suspicious in the parking lots and [report] it to Security right away.”

Benecke told The Colby Echo that when it appeared that there was a pattern of vehicles being targeted on campus, Security made the decision to send a notification to the College community.

On Oct. 7, Bob Williams, Director of Security, sent a school-wide email about the thefts. In the email, Williams reported that the College was increasing the patrolling and monitoring of parking lots, adding lighting, and working with the Waterville Police Department to help identify the perpetrators.

He also warned students not to attempt to stop a theft themselves. Rather, he suggested that students go to a safe place and call Campus Security in the event that they see a potential theft in progress on campus.

In his email, Williams also said that thefts of catalytic converters are not unique to the College. These types of thefts happen across both the state and the country.

“So long as there is a market for the precious metals found in the catalytic converters, there will be an increased likelihood that converters will be targeted by thieves,” Benecke said.

Taylor Bechtel `23 had her catalytic converter stolen on Aug. 21. Her car was parked in the Mary Low parking lot when the theft occurred.

“I went to get [COVID-19] tested and then to pick up my key, and in the hour I was gone, the catalytic converter was stolen,” Bechtel said. “I could tell because of the noise my car made.”

Bechtel took her car to a shop in Waterville, where she was told that her catalytic converter had been stolen. She said it took about three weeks to replace her converter, which cost around $400.

Betchel thinks the College’s communication around the thefts could have been better. She explained that when she reported the theft to Campus Security, she was told that Security was aware that similar thefts had taken place.

“I think they should have sent out communication a little bit earlier than they did,” Betchel said. “When I went to report it to Security, they told me it had been happening last year as well and also over the summer, and it’s tough not knowing that this has been going on.”

Betchel is unsure whether or not Security was referring to previous thefts on campus, but noted that it seems that the school was aware that catalytic converters were being stolen in the Waterville area months before a communication was officially sent out.

Students concerned about their catalytic converters can follow Benecke’s advice by purchasing anti-theft guards for converters and reporting any suspicious behavior to Campus Security.

~ Veronica McIntyre `24

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