The whole process takes just a few minutes. Two cars without license plates pull up to the scene in Middle Village, Queens. A man with a flashlight scopes out the cars, while another stands by as the lookout. Then, he emerges with his prize, a catalytic converter, before making his escape.
“Within the last year, it happened two times. The part cost like $2,000 to replace,” said Zdenka Petrova, a Middle Village resident.
When Petrova’s father had his catalytic converter stolen a second time, she turned to a local neighborhood group on Facebook.
She says within a few minutes dozens shared their experiences.
“I was very surprised how often it happens,” said Petrova.
Michael Fordunski is another victim. His catalytic converter was stolen in June.
“I went out to my car in the evening, started it up and it made a sound like an airplane and I knew they got my catalytic converter,” said Fordunski, a Maspeth resident.
A catalytic converter helps clear toxic gases emitted from the exhaust pipe of a car. The device contains precious metals inside, which are worth a lot of money on the black market.
According to the NYPD, 1,953 catalytic converters have been stolen as of last month. That’s up from 465 thefts in the same period last year.
Residents say they want more cops on the beat, but Councilmember Robert Holden says it won't make a difference because of the city’s criminal justice reform laws.
“The people that are doing this, if they are caught, are not going to jail. So, it’s as simple as that. If there’s no punishment, it’s lucrative for them to steal these converters,” Holden said. “They’re going to do it because the punishment is not there anymore under this administration.”
The NYPD says it started a program to etch serial numbers on the catalytic converters. That would allow investigators to charge people with criminal possession of stolen property, if someone is found in possession of a part reported stolen.
Assembly Member Brian Barnwell says he’s working on introducing legislation that will require serial numbers and guards on vehicles to deter people from stealing the parts.
“Interestingly enough, I’ve been told that, kind of with the pandemic, once the pandemic hit, you’re seeing a rise in these kind of things,” said Barnwell.
Residents, like Petrova, fear the lucrative black market business won’t slow down without a serious crackdown.