Catalytic converter thief arrested at Sunday church service

PORTAGE, Michigan — On Sunday, Jan. 16, someone stole the church members’ catalytic converter while they were at Sunday service at Radiant Church in Portage.

The thief returned on January 23. Same scenario: a catalytic converter was stolen during the same service as the previous week.

“It happened in other churches in the area around the same time as well. As we are connected we have heard about these things. It is a bit shocking. I mean I heard from friends and things, this park to park and drives at night, but for a daytime Sunday morning, it’s pretty cheeky I guess,” executive pastor Rick Burmeister said.

On January 30, however, Portage Public Safety had other plans.

“What we decided to put an officer in an unmarked car on the third Sunday in a row, at the same church, and the suspect happened to show up again,” Lt. Bryan Mayhew said.

The suspect has been arrested. According to the police, catalytic converters are usually stolen at night. This pattern provided them with a rare opportunity to catch the person trying to steal the car part in the act.

“The challenges are trying to catch up with them. They do it so fast. They have the tools with them, they roll, cut the converter and they’re gone in a minute or less,” Mayhew said.

It’s a familiar problem for Tommy Staggs, known as JD at L&L Recycling in Paw Paw. They started asking for the names and driver’s licenses of people trying to sell catalytic converters, which can contain up to a thousand dollars worth of precious metals.

“A thief won’t leave a catalytic converter here with his name and driver’s license,” Staggs said.

Staggs says he pulled people out of the parking lot after discovering they would have to wait 3-5 days for a check, rather than being paid cash on the spot.

“It protects us from burns,” Staggs said.

Local auto repair shops say they most often see stolen catalytic converters from Honda CRVs. They also say that the items available for purchase to prevent theft of catalytic converters are not foolproof. At most, they will slow down a thief.

That’s why Portage PD says they hope that by catching a suspect, they’ve caught someone who’s been causing this problem throughout the region.

“Just appreciate a lot of good police work from good officers this weekend,” Mayhew said.