Fourteen catalytic converters were stolen from a Chetek business last month and local police are asking people to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

Chetek Police Chief Ron Ambrozaitis said the items were stolen from vehicles parked at Blackjack Towing, sometime between July 20 and July 28. Everything from passenger vehicles to U-Haul trucks were targeted. The CPD is investigating and is asking people to report any suspicious activity the may have seen during this time to their department. The thefts likely happened at night.

“Catalytic converters are a hot item. A lot of departments are having problems with catalytic converters getting stolen off of vehicles,” Ambrozaitis said.

The items—which are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system and are used to reduce toxic emissions—can be sold for scrap. They fetch from $500 to as much as $2,500 due to the precious metals in them, Ambrozaitis said. Thieves can use simple tools to cut the parts from underneath vehicles.

Brad Ingram, owner of Blackjack Towing, said whoever did it, used jacks to get under the vehicles and cut the converters off with a power saw. Four of the vehicles were his personal vehicles, several others were U-Haul trucks and others were towed vehicles that had been abandoned and would be scrapped. All told, the stolen parts were valued at $6,950.

Ingram said they have a fence around the property, but fences only stop honest people. He did not have any security footage of the area. Neighboring business may have video, but there would be hours and hours of footage to review.

Ingram said he would be installing more lights and cameras in his lot to prevent future problems. For now he was submitting the claim to his insurance and looking at getting the vehicles fixed, which would add to the cost of damages.

But it can be a difficult crime to detect, stop or prevent.

“People don’t know it until they start their car up and there’s no exhaust,” Ambrozaitis said. He urged car owners to take precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Park your vehicle in your garage if you have one, or park your vehicle in a well lit area or in areas with motion sensor lights, he said. Having security cameras, doorbell cameras or trail cameras can help identify suspects if you are targeted.

If a suspect is seen, don’t take matters into your own hands, Ambrozaitis cautioned. “Call the police. Call Barron County Dispatch,” he said. Police can be reached at 911 for emergencies, or 715-537-3107 for non-emergencies.

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