TIGARD, Ore. -- After turning the ignition of her Toyota 4Runner, Krista Schmeichel thought a pack of motorcycles had pulled up next to her. She turned the car off, and there was silence --no bikers.
Schmeichel's SUV had been sitting in Tigard's Costco lot the entire workday June 28. Her catalytic converter was stolen during those daylight hours, sawed from the car's exhaust system and presumably traded for cash to a metal scrap dealer. The truck now produced a noise, according to Schmeichel, that was "screaming loud."
This was the latest in a string of approximately 15 catalytic converter thefts, all from Toyota vehicles that occurred in Tigard, with the first instance reported April 16. Before that date, Tigard Detective Leigh Erickson said, the city had not encountered this problem in more than a year, back when it was a sporadic incident.
Borrowing the model from similar programs in Southern California, where such thefts have long been an issue, Erickson proposed a program in mid-May to combat the area's crime surge by engraving converters with the owner's license plate number.
Without this registration, he said, there is no way to determine whether a car part was obtained illegally. Once marked, converters can easily be traced to their original owner.
Erickson's idea quickly garnered approval after a short process he called "pretty smooth."
At the "engrave 'em to save 'em," event, held Saturday at the Tigard Public Works Building, police department personnel and volunteers cleaned then engraved the catalytic converters in area residents' vehicles, with particular concern for Toyota SUVs and small trucks.
In Tigard, all targeted vehicles have fit this description, Tigard police spokesman Jim Wolf said. Passenger vehicles that sit low to the ground are not practical for criminals, and Toyota converters are especially vulnerable. Still, officers engraved the converters for every participant. All the cars were Toyotas.
"Most of the thieves are looking to remove the catalytic converter as quickly as possible," he said. "Many of our reported thefts occurred during daytime in public locations, so if there's not enough ground clearance, then that does not work well with their intentions."
Wolf said police and volunteers engraved 102 converters in three hours, with the waiting time peaking at a half-hour.
"Everyone displayed excellent patience and most often (owners of) every vehicle that left expressed some appreciation to the officers," Wolf said.
The converters, which decreases toxic emissions, are potentially worth $50 to $75 each to thieves, Wolf said, who sell the units to metals dealers.
In recent months, Tualatin has not seen any increase in this sort of crime, Capt. Larry Braaksma of the Tualatin Police said. Sherwood had its last catalytic converter theft more than a month ago, with five or six reported instances in April and May and none before that, Sherwood Police Capt. Dwight Onchi said.
Officials are not sure why Tualatin has had no recent increases in these crimes, or why Sherwood's problem declined so dramatically.
"There's really no pattern we would be able to discern," Wolf said. "I don't know."
Neither does Braaksma.
"We know it's an issue but, knock on wood, we haven't seen a rise," he said. TEST END
Sarah Dunlap: email@example.com