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Catalytic converter thefts on the rise; thieves target Street Angels

Posted at 6:03 PM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 19:03:05-05

MILWAUKEE — Police and mechanics report an uptick in catalytic converter thefts. Brazen thieves are striking at night, and targeting organizations that do good and help others.

Street Angels Milwaukee, a grassroots homeless outreach program that serves Milwaukee County, had catalytic converters and other parts stolen from the vans they use regularly to reach the people they serve.

After using the vans Tuesday night to deliver hot meals and warm blankets to the homeless, volunteers locked and parked the vehicles in the parking lot behind Ascension Lutheran Church on Milwaukee’s south side.

By Wednesday afternoon, when the volunteers returned, the vans were not drivable. Unfortunately, it does not appear any surveillance cameras caught the thieves.

“Just to see the disregard for everybody who depends on us, it’s sad and upsetting,” said Shelly Sarasin, Street Angels Co-Director. “It’s going to cost thousands to replace, and the parts are on backorder. That’s money we don’t have.”

The same thing happened to a Hunger Task Force truck within the past month.

It’s not just commercial vehicles being targeted. Veteran Barry Wegner’s new Ford truck was hit near his northside home.

“After grocery shopping, I parked my truck around 10 at night,” Wegner said. “I didn’t get back out to it until 11 the next morning, and it made that horrible sound. I knew thieves got the catalytic converter and other valuable parts. I’m a handyman. I know it takes two quick cuts to get it all in under two minutes. It’s maddening.”

Now, Wegner is without a car for at least three weeks, and the repair is estimated to cost nearly $5,000. Like Street Angels, he’s not yet sure how much insurance will cover.

Wegner’s mechanic says his truck is among 150 others they’ve serviced in the past month, with catalytic converters and other parts stolen.

Investigators say it’s a felony crime that typically happens in waves. It’s not just one group doing it, or one part of the city affected. It’s happening in all areas. The platinum and copper the converters are made of are sold for cash.

While Milwaukee Police don’t specifically track catalytic converter thefts, MPD crime stats show that theft is up 31 percent compared to this time last year.

The Street Angels, though disheartened, refuse to let this affect the way they help people. They are already out again, helping the homeless.

“We just have to do it in our own cars now,” Sarasin said. “It’s not as ideal. Those vans were equipped with everything we needed, and we can go as a team. But, we used our own cars when we first started, and we’ll do it again. People rely on us. We can’t stop.”

There are locks for catalytic converters that make them nearly impossible to steal, but those are expensive too, at nearly $1,000 apiece.

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