Catalytic Converter Thefts Continue in Region – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Area school district hit twice in about a month

While thefts of catalytic converters from automobiles continue to increase nationally, a local increase recently affected the Phoenix-Talent School District.

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

Buses require more than one catalytic converter. Thus, each vehicle can adequately reduce the toxins emitted by gasoline vehicles.

Hybrid vehicles also have this type of equipment.

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

The failure of buses to arrive as scheduled Monday morning has made life more difficult for special education students and their families, Superintendent of Schools Brent Barry said.

Staff quickly began contacting the students’ families to let them know the bus would not be arriving. Just as quickly, parents had to find a way 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 leases the district court.

The contractor was able to bring in replacement buses from Grants Pass, Central Point and Roseburg school districts to help Phoenix-Talent deal with the sudden loss. These vehicles arrived the same afternoon. For this quick response to the district’s needs, Barry said he was grateful to everyone involved.

This was the second flight of catalytic converters in about a month from the location. Catalytic converters were removed from two more buses on April 7. Thieves cut a wire fence to gain access to vehicles parked in the yard, the sheriff’s office said.

Security cameras and lighting are being upgraded on site.

Due to ongoing supply issues, expensive parts won’t be easily replaced, Barry said.

Area law enforcement said there had been other such thefts in the area.

Both Oregon and Washington have passed legislation designed to deter such thefts by focusing on scrapping and destroying automobiles.

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

The Washington House Bill 1815 became law on March 30. It sets requirements for companies that would accept catalytic converters, provides grants to local law enforcement agencies for undercover operations, and creates a task force to examine how the state can address the problem at the coming.

“It’s a crisis,” said Kenton Brine, chairman of the NW Insurance Council.

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

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

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

Organized theft rings can round up trucks loaded with these parts and quickly take them to other parts of the world, Brine said.

Thieves might consider the Medford area a good place for this activity as it is near the California border.

That might not be a benefit for much longer, as the California state legislature may reconsider Senate Bill 919 after it failed to pass through a Senate committee in late April.

The current version of the bill requires devices to be permanently marked with the original vehicle identification number, has requirements for recyclers and penalties for violating those rules.

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

Brine and local law enforcement officials suggest people do what is possible to protect their vehicles.

Vehicle owners are advised to consult their car dealership or mechanic to determine which deterrent might work for that make and model.

Methods to make catalytic converters less attractive to thieves include engraving identification numbers on the device, affixing a plate to protect the connection to the operating system, or marking so that precious metals from these devices – platinum, palladium and rhodium – are not recyclable.

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

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

Contact reporter Terri Harber at [email protected] or 541-776-4468.

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