In the past two months, at least 37 vehicles were reported stolen in the city and unsuccessful attempts were made on another 31 cars, Evanston police told the RoundTable.

Where is the catalytic converter? Here, marked with red spray paint. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

“I actually don’t have the past stats to compare to last year, but I do know that in January, there’s been nearly three times as many cars stolen as there were in December,” said Sgt. Chelsea Brown. “Just a large uptick there in this last month.”

“These are issues we’ve been dealing with for the last year,” Brown said. “Car thefts though have been on the rise.”

The Evanston Police Department’s community policing unit has been warning residents at ward meetings that car thefts and thefts of catalytic converters are up. These are not new issues, but police are seeing an increase.

A total of 17 catalytic converters were stolen from December 2022 to January 2023. And most occurred within the last 30 days, Brown said Wednesday, Feb. 1.

But these thefts don’t seem to be concentrated in one area.

“I don’t have a map in front of me, but this is not usually a crime that’s particular to one area,” Brown said. “You might have one area that’s hit one night and a different area a different night.”

Most vulnerable to criminals are Hyundai and Kia vehicles parked on the public way, driveways and in unsecured, open public parking garages, Brown said.

A sign duct-taped to a vehicle represents one low-tech option for deterring catalytic converter theft. (Photo by Wendi Kromash)

Individuals who steal catalytic converters typically work in teams, Brown explained. Two will use a battery-powered reciprocating saw to cut the catalytic converter free while another is waiting nearby in a get-away car.

“The catalytic converter can be stolen in under a minute,” Brown said. “They’re fast.”

To help residents keep their property safe, Brown shared some tips:

  • Lights are an effective deterrent. Park somewhere well lit, Brown said. If you park in a driveway, Brown recommends purchasing motion sensor lights.
  • Spray painting catalytic converters is a visual deterrent, too. A bright red catalytic converter can still be stolen but it would be an indicator to scrap buyers that it’s stolen.
  • You can also install a CatClamp for a similar purpose. The CatClamp encloses the catalytic converter and makes it more challenging to cut it out. It’s also a clear sign that the catalytic converter is stolen.
  • Purchasing a tilt alarm for your car is another good idea. The alarm will be triggered when someone attempts to steal the vehicle.

But lastly and perhaps most importantly, if you hear a loud saw noise or spot someone stealing a catalytic converter or the whole vehicle, don’t approach them, Brown said. Instead, collect information about the individuals and the get-away vehicle to relay the details to police. “People are armed and they will shoot you for a piece of metal,” Brown said. “It’s just not worth your life.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. Put a steering wheel lock on your car, lock the car and don’t leave the key fob inside or valuables showing.

    Additional security would involve installing a GPS tracker and or a battery cutoff switch and a locked car cover.

    Park in a well lighted area and or where the vehicle is luminated by motion detectors under video surveillance.

    For cat converters, there are ways of modifying them to deter theft and I have seen them armed with explosive spray paint when removed.. we have seen the banks do with money in the tellers cash drawer.