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Catalytic converter thefts continue in region

Area school district hit twice in about a month

While thefts of catalytic converters from automobiles continue to be on the rise nationwide, a local surge has recently affected the Phoenix-Talent School District.

Someone stole five catalytic converters off of three school buses used to transport special education students to and from their school campuses. A sixth converter was destroyed. It was partially cut through but left behind.

The buses require more than one catalytic converter. This is so each vehicle can adequately reduce the toxins that petroleum-powered vehicles emit.

Hybrid vehicles also have this type of equipment.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office reported the theft occurred at the bus yard in Talent between the late afternoon of May 6 and early morning of May 9. The buses were parked in front of a building there.

Not having the buses arrive as scheduled Monday morning made life more of a challenge for special education students and their families, said Schools Superintendent Brent Barry.

Staff quickly began contacting students’ families to let them know the bus wasn’t going to arrive. Just as quickly, parents had to figure out how to get their children to school — if possible. Many of them also had to find a way to get to work on time, he explained.

“It wasn’t a great start to the week,” Barry said.

First Student Inc. provides transportation and rents the yard from the district.

The contractor was able to arrange for replacement buses to be brought from the Grants Pass, Central Point and Roseburg school districts to assist Phoenix-Talent with the sudden loss. Those vehicles arrived that same afternoon. For this quick response to the district’s need, Barry said he was grateful to all involved.

This was the second theft of catalytic converters within about a month from the location. Catalytic converters were removed from two other buses April 7. The thieves cut through a wire fence to gain access to those vehicles parked in the yard, the sheriff’s office said.

Security cameras and lighting are being upgraded at the location.

Because of continuing supply issues, the expensive parts aren’t going to be easily replaced, Barry said.

Area law enforcement agencies said there have been other such thefts around the area.

Both Oregon and Washington have adopted legislation meant to deter such thefts by focusing on scrap metal and auto wrecking.

Oregon Senate Bill 803 went into effect Jan. 1 and limits which recyclers can buy them as well as who can sell them.

Washington House Bill 1815 became law March 30. It establishes requirements for businesses that would accept catalytic converters, provides grants to local law enforcement agencies for sting operations, and creates a task force to look at how the state can approach the problem in the future.

“This is a crisis,” said Kenton Brine, president of the NW Insurance Council.

The council is a nonprofit organization supported by the insurance industry that provides information about insurance issues in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Brine described it as an evolving issue for which people in government and industry are still trying to find solutions. “Oregon and Washington have made a good start,” he added.

Large parking areas are prime locations for such crimes, but so are businesses with work vehicles as well as many vehicles parked on the street and in driveways.

Organized theft rings can gather truckloads of these parts and quickly take them to other areas of the world, Brine said.

Thieves might consider the Medford area a good place for this activity because it’s near the California border.

That might not be an advantage for much longer, because California’s state legislature could reconsider Senate Bill 919 after it failed to pass through a Senate committee in late April.

The current version of the bill includes requiring the devices be permanently marked with vehicle of origin’s identification number, has requirements for recyclers and penalties for not following those rules.

Some newer vehicle models are designed with the catalytic converters located in a place underneath that makes them difficult to reach and can be a deterrent.

Brine and local law enforcement representatives suggest that people do what’s feasible to protect their vehicles.

Vehicle owners are advised to consult their auto dealer or mechanic to determine what deterrent might work for that make and model.

Methods to make catalytic converters less attractive to thieves include etching identification numbers on the device, affixing a plate to protect the connection to the operating system or marking it so the precious metals in these devices — platinum, palladium and rhodium — aren’t recyclable.

Among suggestions by Aaron Lewis of the sheriff’s office is to make sure a vehicle is parked in a well-lit area and, if possible, within view of a video camera.

Residents fortunate enough to have a garage should use it to secure their vehicles, said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.