KENT COUNTY, Mich. — A church in Wyoming has had catalytic converters stolen off both of their work vehicles in the last several weeks, as similar thefts skyrocket throughout Kent County.
A catalytic converter is a device affixed to the underside of all vehicles manufactured after 1974 that has a similar appearance to a muffler. The device takes harmful exhaust fumes and makes them less harmful before going out into the atmosphere.
There are a number of precious metals inside catalytic converters that make them so valuable to thieves— including platinum, palladium and rhodium. The stolen converters are sold to recycling and scrap yards.
"The thieves risk five minutes of getting caught under a car so that they can quickly get at least $250 for each," explained Spl/Lt Michelle Robinson with the Michigan State Police.
It was about six weeks ago that the folks at United Church Outreach Ministry on Chicago Dr. in Wyoming realized that the catalytic converter had been sawed off one of their work vehicles.
"And at that point, we debated whether or not we could even afford to replace it. The vehicle was older, and it was $1,000,” said Shawn Keener, program director for UCOM.
UCOM has been around since 1985, helping to connect people in their neighborhood dealing with food insecurities to the resources they need. They use their trucks to disperse food shipments to other locations and organizations.
“Primarily, we concentrate on food resources and sustainability, and then we do have a vibrant gardening program, helping people learn how to grow their own food,” Keener explained.
They have been able to fall back on their only other work vehicle in the past several weeks, but just a few days ago the catalytic converter was stolen off that vehicle as well.
“When we have to replace these catalytic converters, that's money that comes right out of our food budget, and so that's money that comes right out of the mouths of people in the community,” Keener said.
“We've had to turn down a couple of loads of produce that we wanted to pick up, and other products, because it won't fit in our van... You know, we need that truck back.”
But they aren't the only ones dealing with this right now in West Michigan.
Looking at all of Kent County— in 2020, from January to July, the sheriff's department responded to just five reports of stolen catalytic converters, with a total of six stolen.
In 2021, from January to July, they responded to a staggering 83 reports, with a total of 91 catalytic converters being stolen.
This is an increase of just over 1,416% in Kent County.
If someone is caught and convicted for stealing a catalytic converter, they are looking at a felony charge with the possibility of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Michigan State Police's Spl/Lt Michelle Robinson said, "The MSP Grand Rapids Post has recently solved a couple of cases due to alert citizens and patrol Troopers. We believe that citizens need to be aware of this problem and request their assistance when they see something suspicious."
She said their current intelligence does not indicate that there are organized "crews" going around and taking the devices, but rather numerous opportunistic individuals.