Crime News

Catalytic converter theft strikes UH parking lots

Catalytic converters

Catalytic converters are being stolen from some UH parking lots, leaving students stuck with high repair costs. | Aisha Bouderdaben/The Cougar

To most, the catalytic converter is one of many indistinguishable parts that lies somewhere in the tangled mess of wires and metal that somehow makes our vehicles move. But to others, the small metal part represents a pay day.

Andres Leon, a senior in his last semester as a political science major, learned that the hard way when he went to pick up a friend in early March. When he got to his car parked in lot E and turned the ignition, the noise that greeted him was anything but normal. 

“I heard a very loud explosion come from under my vehicle,” said Leon. “I got out and looked under my vehicle and noticed pretty much right away that my catalytic converter had been sawn off.”

Leon immediately contacted campus police, but according to him the response from the officers left a lot to be desired. 

“They seemed to question whether or not it had been stolen here [on campus].” Leon said. “He wasn’t very helpful. He told me I shouldn’t expect much since I couldn’t give an exact time frame for them to check the camera surveillance.”

The theft has Leon in a tricky situation, as he cannot afford the annual fee of the parking garage, he’s left to either pay the repair bill and hope it doesn’t happen again, or go without a car for the time being. 

“Because of the poor security on campus and bad lighting, I’m afraid of getting it fixed because I’m scared it’ll happen again,” Leon said.

Theft of catalytic converters has seen a dramatic increase in the city over the past few years. Between 2019 and 2021 there was a 2000 percent increase in the number of catalytic converter thefts reported, according to KPRC.

UH is not immune to this increase, with more and more thefts being reported each week. The University’s crime log lists 13 thefts of catalytic converters in 2022 alone, the vast majority occurring in lots E, D and F.

There’s also a chance that these thefts represent a more serious, systemic problem. Whatever the issue, more and more students are finding themselves in similar situations to Leon, leaving many to wonder if parking in the open lots is still a safe option.  

 “Individuals are responsible for the thefts, but it seems the stolen items are being purchased by organized groups,” Padovan said.

UHPD is aware of this and is taking steps to combat the issue. 

“The University of Houston Police Department is working with other agencies to address this nationwide problem,”  said Sergeant Dina Padovan, a UHPD officer and crime prevention staffer. “We are developing an educational video for our University community with tips on how to safeguard their vehicles.”

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