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Metals market slump: RCSO: Auto repair shop thefts drop

CONYERS - The market price for metals has dropped significantly, and so, it would appear, has the number of thefts from auto repair shops.

Reports of stolen catalytic converters in Rockdale County have slowed to a trickle in recent months compared to earlier in the year.

Deputy Michael Camp, crime analyst with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, looked at five local auto repair shops that had been the victim of catalytic converter thefts this year. Based on those reports, it appears most of the activity occurred in the spring and summer months.

For example, Abra Auto Body & Glass on Dogwood Drive reported being robbed twice in April. On April 23, 10 catalytic converters were stolen.

DJ Autos Sales & Service, located on General Arts Road, reported 10 catalytic converters were stolen on May 27 and two transmissions were stolen in August.

Mitchell's Used Auto Parts on Flat Shoals Road was perhaps the most often targeted business.

According to the information from the RCSO, an unknown number of catalytic converters was reported stolen Feb. 5; 15 were stolen Feb. 23; on June 29, four catalytic converters were stolen; two more were stolen Aug. 23; and eight were reported stolen Sept. 17.

But since then, reports of catalytic converter thefts have slowed. At that point, the price of metal also declined, according to those in the industry.

Trish Rayner, who works at Oconee Metal Recovery in Covington, said the price of metal began to drop in August. She said her company paid 14 cents per pound of metal over the summer, and today, the going rate is 2 cents per pound.

"It dropped right after the Olympics," she said. "Platinum has dropped - all metals. The bottom has fallen out of the market."

Rayner said that overseas demand has dried up, which is affecting prices across the board.

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington said it seems to be market forces that have reduced the instances of catalytic converter thefts.

"The market value for the cost of scrap metal has dropped to nothing like it was at its peak, and, therefore, (criminals) are not able to get anywhere near the money they once were," he said.

Investigator Sonny Goodson said the Newton County Sheriff's Office did not have the capability of compiling crimes by what was taken, but he does know from personal experience that thefts of catalytic converters have dropped off dramatically.

"In the last few weeks, I've seen none. A couple of months ago, in August and September, we had a rash of catalytic converter thefts," Goodson said. "I think it's due to the vigilance of our deputies with extra patrols in the most exposed areas and the price of metal dropping."

Goodson said the NCSO didn't make any arrests specifically tied to catalytic converter theft, although deputies did discover most of those stolen from the area went to recyclers in Henry and Walton counties.

"We made several big arrests during that time frame of a local theft ring involving three people," Goodson said, adding that no catalytic converters were found with the suspects at the time of the arrest. "We arrested two of them in Jasper County with a large number of items, and catalytic converters would have been in their range, and they did have the circular saws that they use to cut them off. It has slowed down since we locked those gentlemen up."

Lt. Wendell Wagstaff of Covington Police Department said his agency, too, has seen a drop and he said it was due to metal prices going down "significantly."

He said reports show at least 40 catalytic converters were stolen before September 2008, including 19 from car lots on U.S. Highway 278 and two from their own department's surplus police cars. Delivery vans and service vehicles seemed to be favorite targets, as well.

The majority of the thefts were from business vehicles that were parked unattended overnight, he said, but added that when metal prices were at their peak, they had incidents of abandoned cars being stolen out of yards. He said the metal from the cars could be recycled for about $400.

While instances of catalytic converter thefts have slowed, they haven't stopped completely.

On Wednesday, two people who parked their trucks at the Ride Share lot at Iris and Klondike roads in Conyers reported their catalytic converters were stolen. The estimated value of the catalytic converters is approximately $300, according to the incident report.