Sheriff’s program addresses catalytic converter thefts

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

A Cook County Sheriff’s Office mechanic etches the vehicle identification number onto a car’s catalytic converter during a Nov. 17 etching event in Northbrook. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is looking to make an impact on the catalytic converter market.

Sheriff’s Office mechanics have been using a tool at designated events to etch the vehicle identification number onto a car, truck or SUV’s catalytic converter, making the car part not as attractive for thieves. Catalytic converters are cut from the bottom of parked cars and thieves profit from the sale of the part’s highly sought metals.

“It’s to deter people from stealing and selling these converters. At the end of the day, we don’t know how much it helps, but we have to do something,” said Cook County Undersheriff Marlon Parks as drivers were getting their catalytic converters marked at a Nov. 17 Northbrook event. “Sheriff (Tom) Dart came up with this to support the communities and to tell people, ‘We understand. We’re here.’”

Parks said a friend of his came out of his house to go to work and found thieves with ski masks on under his vehicle. One of the thieves pulled a gun on the man and told him to go back inside his house.

“This is a hot-button topic in Chicago, and it is extending itself to the suburbs,” Parks said. “The sheriff feels whatever we can do to deter these individuals from climbing under your car and stealing what’s yours, we’re good.”

Rebecca Rassan of Northbrook said she went through the etching process at the Northbrook Public Works facility to keep from being a target of the crime.

“I know how many thefts have happened out there,” Rassan said. “(A converter) is very expensive to get replaced. So, if there is any kind of deterrent, I want to take advantage of it.”

The etching is the latest step in the Sheriff’s Office work to help motorists protect themselves from the rampant crime. Since 2021, the Sheriff’s Office has offered free spray painting of the auto part at community event. The florescent paint, which includes a sheriff’s star, is intended to prevent the parts from being sold to recyclers, thus reducing the chance thieves will go through the effort of taking the item.

The etched VIN also allows law enforcement to trace a recovered catalytic converter back to the owner, potentially increasing the chance for criminal charges.

Parks said demand is so high right now for the auto part, which runs around $1,200 for most vehicles, that victims of converter thefts often wait two or three months for a replacement.

The undersheriff recommended parking in a safe, well-lit area and always being aware of your surrounding when going to your vehicle.

“If somebody is out there trying to steal your vehicle’s converter, don’t be a hero. Go back in the house. We want you to be safe,” Parks said. “We can replace a converter. We don’t need superheroes running and chasing people. That changes the narrative.”

Tisa Morris, the Sheriff’s Office’s director of community engagement, said trying to deter thieves from swiping catalytic converters is the rationale for the etching events.

“It gives people a sense of safety. It gives people a sense that the people they have elected care about what happens to them,” Morris said. “When you see things like people using guns to take material property, it makes events like this really, really important.”

She said as word about the program spreads it should have a deterrent effect on potential converter thieves.

“It also should instill confidence in people that they can walk the streets safely and drive their vehicles safely,” Morris said.