West Allis police see surge in thefts of catalytic converters

WEST ALLIS (WITI) -- West Allis police say they're seeing a surge in catalytic converter thefts. Thieves are apparently targeting vehicles in alleys and parking lots -- as they rip off valuable parts to resell.

Greenfield Motors is a small car dealership that was struck by the thieves in the last month.

"A couple guys came in you know, real early in the morning, and they cased the operation to find out what they could get easily and they started cutting," said Kevin Schuchardt, owner of Greenfield Motors.

Luckily, a neighbor spotted the criminal activity and notified police -- who caught the guys before they could make off with the vehicles' catalytic converters.

"These people typically know what they're going to get, which ones are more valuable, and they're definitely going to target the more valuable converters," said Schuchardt.

Catalytic converter thefts aren't new. In fact, Deputy Chief Bob Fletcher of the West Allis Police Department says it's normal for the city to see one or two thefts a month. But in September, that number climbed to eight.

"It's been happening from the very east end of our city to the west end of our city -- and you know, there doesn't seem to be a particular region," said Fletcher.

Fletcher says thieves often target vehicles in alleys. But some are getting more bold and going after cars in parking lots. They're generally hitting cars that are at least a couple of years old.

If you want to protect your car, Fletcher says park in well-lit area, away from trees or buses that someone could hide in -- and keep an eye out for the unusual.

"If they see somebody doing work on a car in a parking lot and you know it's at Target, that's kind of unusual, that you know call the police," said Fletcher.

Schuchardt says for years, he's been following a basic security step to protect his lot.

"Having the place lit up, that if somebody is walking around that they're going to be noticed," said Schuchardt.

Fletcher says thieves are after the precious metals contained inside the catalytic converters. He also says the number of thefts dropped from September to October. So far this month, the police department has seen only four.