Following a year-long investigation and sting operation, Fremont police say that a recycling outfit called Arrow Recovery has been purchasing obviously stolen catalytic converters from thieves and recycling the rare and precious metals inside for profit.
Catalytic converter thefts have been on the rise nationwide, and they represented a crime of easy opportunity for thieves during the pandemic, in particular. But without fences or willing buyer of the stolen devices — which are easily sawed out of vehicles' exhaust systems with simple hand tools — they would not be worth as much to the criminals taking them. As the Chronicle notes, thieves can get as much as $300 apiece for catalytic converters, which contain metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium — while car owners can pay thousands to have them replaced.
According to an announcement from the Fremont Police Department, Arrow Recovery, which is located on the 46000 block of Warm Springs Blvd. in Fremont, had been buying stolen catalytic converters by the hundreds.
And to make sure that they had evidence that Arrow Recovery was knowingly accepting stolen goods, "detectives began an operation where an undercover officer sold cut catalytic converters to Arrow Recovery marked or etched with "stolen" or other markings suggesting they had been illegally obtained."
The investigation culminated in a search warrant in June, police say, in which "detectives located multiple 55-gallon drums of refined and semi-refined catalytic converter material, along with approximately eight pallets containing at least 300 suspected stolen catalytic converters."
The Fremont PD says that in the two months since conducting the search warrant, the city "has seen a drop in stolen catalytic converter thefts ... which corresponds with this investigation."
Further, they say, "Fremont Detectives will continue to work collaboratively with the agencies and the Alameda County District Attorney's office, to prosecute Arrow Recovery for receiving stolen property. In addition, permitting and environmental impact penalties will be evaluated and levied where appropriate."
The scale of these thefts in the Bay Area and beyond suggests that there have to be many more businesses doing what Arrow is accused of doing. As SFist reported in December 2021, an investigation by San Jose police turned up three auto-body shops that were allegedly knowingly purchasing stolen catalytic converters. And that case seems especially plausible given the supply-chain issues that have been causing delays and shortages in auto parts — which can mean that auto-repair businesses have to turn down work.
The San Jose businesses were allegedly catering to thieves and "often purchasing cut catalytic converters with no questions asked," according to police. The irony being that the shops were then likely catering to clients whose cars had been vandalized by those same thieves and stripped of their converters.
One catalytic converter theft in progress may have also led to a homicide in San Jose last year, when the car owner tried to confront the thief.
A 28-year-old man was killed in Sacramento in April while allegedly attempting to steal a catalytic converter from under a car — and he was then run over by the car.