Winnipeg police said they’ve seen an increase in thefts of catalytic converters from vehicles.

In 2013, a total of 11 of the devices, which help control emissions, were stolen while 2014 has seen 18 thefts so far, said police.

“They're after the elements that are in to catalytic convertors. There's palladium, rhodium, and platinum," said mechanic Marco Palumbo, who owns Maxim Muffler and Auto.

The devices can sell for between $30 and $300 each, and Palumbo says they’re easy to remove.

"It's really easy. It literally takes ten minutes, if you don't know what you're doing," said Palumbo.

Palumbo says it’s difficult to remove the elements from the convertors, and suspects thieves would sell them to buyers who pay cash and don’t ask questions. He says vehicles higher off the ground are at a higher risk. The Winnipeg Police issued the same warning.

“Sport Utility Vehicles are often targeted because they are higher off the ground. It takes experienced thieves about three minutes to cut the catalytic converter out with a reciprocating saw,” said police. “While it is unknown at this time whether the stolen items are being sold for scrap, the price of the valuable metals in a catalytic converter (platinum, palladium and rhodium) has risen.”

“If you see suspicious persons or vehicles in parking lots or near vehicles at your home report it immediately to 911,” said police. “If you have information on these crimes, please call the Winnipeg police non-emergency line at 204-986-6222.”

Officers released the following tips to help curb the thefts:

1) Defensive parking

Always park your vehicle in an area that allows the most visibility to passers-by. The riskiest places to leave your vehicle are the places where vehicles are left long term, (such as auto repair shops), and parking lots with closely parked cars allowing organized thieves to hit several cars at once. Always take note of the security precautions taken and ask if you have any doubts.

2) Effective security lighting

Lighting is vital to reducing catalytic converter theft. Though the opportunity thieves are getting bold enough to strike in busy areas in broad daylight, the more organized thieves won’t be so brazen. They are more professional and bit more risk averse. Good security lighting makes your vehicles visible to the street without creating glare.

3) Live video surveillance

For some businesses it will make sense to install video cameras and employ live surveillance specialists to monitor for catalytic converter theft. If your live surveillance specialists are authorized to call the police on your behalf you can stop catalytic converter theft before it happens, potentially saving yourself the cost of damage to your vehicles.

4) Monitor your local news

The less organized opportunity thieves fall into quickly recognizable patterns in local areas. Monitor the Winnipeg Police Service Crime Stat website and your local news to give you an idea of when there are catalytic converter thieves in high activity in your area.

5) Spread community awareness

If you hear about catalytic converter thefts in your neighbourhood or even suffer the theft of a catalytic converter from your vehicle then consider getting the word out in some way to others in your area. The opportunity catalytic converter thieves often strike locally and repeatedly in their crime spree. Call your friends and associates in the area, knock on the doors of your neighbours and post fliers.

6) Welded bolts

If your catalytic converters are “bolt on” you can have the bolts welded shut. This is only a deterrent to the lowest grade of catalytic converter thief though - the one who works only with a wrench. Still, in some cases it might be enough of a deterrent to help prevent a theft.

7) Catalytic converter protective sleeves

Protective coverings for your catalytic converter, such as the device known as the “Catclamp,” can deter thieves as well. The Catclamp and competitor Catcuff makes it much more difficult for the reciprocal saw wielding thief to steal your converter. They are somewhat pricey though, and if you’re operating a fleet of vehicles or an auto dealership it won’t be cost effective. They are great for owners of one or two cars.

8) ID# etching

A major problem with this type of crime is convicting a thief when they are not caught in the act. Police need proof that a catalytic converter they find in a guy's trunk or at the scrap metal dealer is stolen. Etching your converter with your vehicles VIN number will help the police to track your converter back to you if police recover it after it’s stolen. This will not protect you from theft, but it could help to catch the thieves preying on your neighbourhood’s vehicles and at least you get some satisfaction knowing your foresight help convict the thieves.

(Source: Winnipeg Police Service)