Chandler Police recovered these stolen catalytic converters while busting three Phoenix men on charges of stealing the devices from people’s parked vehicles. (Chandler Police)

Chandler Police say they’ve made progress in dealing with a spree of catalytic converter thefts in the city, making nine arrests in the past month.

Police announced it made three arrests on Monday. The victim interrupted the theft on Feb. 22. The suspects allegedly pointed a gun at the victim before fleeing in a black BMW. Police spotted a black BMW in the area and gave chase when the car did not pull over.

The suspects abandoned the car in a parking lot. Police say they found them in a nearby business. Inside the car they found a firearm, 10 catalytic converters, and a battery-powered saw.

Police arrested Robert Canez, Jesus Banuelos and Tevon Kroncke, all of Phoenix. Police believe they were responsible for other catalytic converter thefts in Chandler.

Many Chandler residents have been victims. Police say about 90 cases have been reported this year so far. There were 447 cases reported last year.

The thieves strike almost anywhere a car is parked – even behind security fences at auto repair shops.

“I am sick to my stomach,” a Chandler resident wrote on social media. “Someone came between 8 p.m. last night and 5 p.m. today and cut out our catalytic converter of my Tundra. Toyota said there are so many thefts the last few months that they are on back order, could take a couple weeks, or months.”

A catalytic converter converts emissions so they are less harmful to the environment. They have become a popular target for theft because of the heavy metals used to make them, rhodium, palladium and platinum.

While any car could be targeted, thieves tend to go after the Toyota Prius and Toyota trucks because they have higher concentrations of the metals. It can cost several thousand dollars to replace one.

Thieves can make thousands of dollars from the precious metals inside the catalytic converter. Using a saw, they can steal one in minutes.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said the number of catalytic converter thefts reported in claims to insurance companies jumped from 3,389 in 2019 to 14,433 in 2020.

NICB President David Glawe said there has been a significant increase in thefts since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s an opportunistic crime,” Glawe said in a statement. “As the value of the precious metals contained within the catalytic converters continues to increase, so do the number of thefts of these devices. There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives investors towards these precious metals.”

The increase in thefts has prompted states across the country – but not Arizona –to toughen penalties and impose new requirements for scrap metal dealers who buy the converters.

There are anti-theft devices for the catalytic converter. Police urge residents to park their car in the garage if they have one. If not, park in a driveway that has motion-sensor lighting.

“Happened to us too last month,” another Chandler resident wrote in response to the first. “Brand new Tacoma. We had a cage put around it so they cannot steal it again. Took a month to get our truck back.”

Most insurance will cover the theft, though the owner will likely have to pay the deductible.

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