Sunday, September 25, 2022

Community Steps Up to Help The Arc of Greater Williamsburg After Catalytic Converter Thefts

Catalytic converter theft is on the rise, according to AAA Tidewater Virginia. (Seth Sawyers/Flickr)

WILLIAMSBURG — Toward the end of July, AAA Tidewater and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB) warned motorists of a slight rise in catalytic converter theft since the start of the pandemic.

At a little over $1,000 per catalytic converter, on average, the crime is actually considered grand larceny. The reason for the price, and also why thieves target these car parts, is because of the precious metals used to make them work.

Catalytic converters are attached to the car’s exhaust system and are used to convert toxic exhaust that is emitted from a car’s engine into a less harmful gas. These car parts use precious metals such as platinum, palladium, or rhodium to accomplish this task. When stolen from cars, thieves are able to resell these car parts for a quick profit.

According to the NCIB, in the U.S., there were 108 catalytic converter thefts per month on average in 2018, 282 average monthly thefts in 2019, and 1,203 average thefts per month in 2020. 

These car parts have cost some locals across the region a pretty penny to replace, and Greater Williamsburg is no exception. Even local organizations have had their vehicles targeted and vandalized by thieves, including The Arc of Greater Williamsburg.

“So I believe it was on a Wednesday, and it was discovered by one of our board members that kind of manages our vans along with one of our drivers,” said The Arc of Greater Williamsburg Executive Director Pamela A. McGregor in an interview with WYDaily. “They went to take it[a van] down to go get a safety inspection, and then turned the ignition and it sounded like a bomb went off.”

The local nonprofit quickly discovered that all three of its wheelchair-accessible vans had their catalytic converters stolen.

“Unfortunately, in our parking lots there are no cameras,” said McGregor. “However, the police said that if the hedges had not been so high on one side they might’ve been able to use the cameras that are from Berkley Middle School.”

McGregor says that the organization has insurance and the plan is to repair these three vans later in the month, still, the repairs will cost The Arc of Greater Williamsburg over $3,000. 

“We’re also going to take some extra precautions,” said McGregor. “We’re going to have a cage put on them so that they’re much harder to access and to get to. We’re also going to be parking them in the front of the building versus in the back.”

The Arc of Greater Williamsburg has two other vans, and they are typically used for its Wheels4Work program. While these vehicles are not as big as the wheelchair-accessible vans, they did not get vandalized and the organization is able to carry on providing clients with necessary transportation to and from jobs around the area. 

McGregor thinks this has to do with where the vans were initially parked. The vans typically used for Wheels4Work were parked closer to the building, and perhaps that’s why they weren’t targeted. 

“None of our clients that have been involved in Wheels4Work have lost the opportunity to have a ride,” said McGregor. “I’ve given rides, and we have other volunteer drivers. We’ve figured that out, and we’re never going to leave our clients high and dry. The ones that have been left out of a few things have been our clients in the wheelchairs and their families were, thankfully, able to bring them, themselves.” 

Providing transportation is a vital service from The Arc of Greater Williamsburg. Around 95% percent of the clients who benefit from Wheels4Work do not drive, and they rely on the organization to have reliable transportation to their jobs.

There are around 50 clients in the Wheels4Work program working within the community. Places like William & Mary, Trader Joe’s, Williamsburg Landing, and WindsorMeade all participate in the program that helps to provide jobs to adults with developmental disabilities. 

Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) also provides fully accessible buses on its routes as part of its paratransit program

“WATA has a wonderful paratransit program, they provide transportation for people with disabilities as well,” said McGregor. “The Arc’s role with that is just making sure our clients are aligned with that, and that is a little tricky if you don’t live near a bus stop, but if you do, then they will pick you right up at your door and take you to wherever you need to go, and for Wheels4Work clients that’s really important.”

McGregor says community support for The Arc of Greater Williamsburg has been very positive.

“Williamsburg Landing stepped right up, the Rotary Club, it was nice to see the communities outpouring support,” McGregor said.

AAA advises certain precautions to help prevent catalytic converter theft: 

  • Park in a garage or other secure area when available
  • If you must park on the road or in a driveway, make sure you are able to park by a streetlight or camera.
  • Always make sure that your car is locked and has functioning alarms.
  • Get your VIN etched on your catalytic converter. 

It is also recommended to motorists who may have fallen victim to catalytic converter theft to please contact local law enforcement as well as their insurer because catalytic converter theft may be covered in the individual’s policy. 

For more information on The Arc of Greater Williamsburg, please check out its official website.

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