DENVER — Holly Winton knew immediately that something wasn’t right when she started her car last year inside the garage at the Table Mesa Park-N-Ride in Boulder.
“It was so loud. It was deafening and embarrassing,” said Winton, whose catalytic converter was stolen off her car.
But Winton wasn’t the only one who heard that loud, rumbling noise in the past year inside that RTD parking garage. Boulder Police records obtained by Denver7 Investigates show that 88 catalytic converters were stolen from vehicles at the Table Mesa Park-N-Ride since the start of 2021.
“It’s just a feeling of rage,” said Bill Enyart, another victim of catalytic converter theft in that parking lot. “It’s just got to be stopped.”
Data analyzed by Denver7 Investigates shows that nearly 4,000 catalytic converters were stolen off vehicles in Denver and Boulder since the start of 2020, with the most active hotspots being parking lots where people leave their cars for an extended period.
Denver7 Investigates requested police data from Denver and Boulder police on catalytic converter thefts and learned that 3,928 catalytic converters were stolen off cars from the start of 2020 through early March 2022. However, the majority of those thefts occurred in 2021. In Denver, out of the 3,589 total thefts, 2,848 (79%) occurred in 2021.
In Boulder, more than a quarter of the city’s 339 reported catalytic converter thefts took place at the Table Mesa RTD Park-N-Ride.
“There’s a lot of thefts in that parking garage,” Boulder Police Cmdr. Tom Trujillo said, noting that no arrests have been made in any of those crimes.
Three of the top four catalytic converter theft hotspots in Denver are also at RTD Park-N-Rides. The Central Park station at 8200 Smith Road had 52 thefts; the station at 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard had 29 thefts; and the 61st and Pena station had 22 thefts. The fourth hotspot is at Denver International Airport, which had 78 thefts spread across several of its parking lots.
“Now that we know that certain areas are exhibiting more of those types of criminal incidents, now we know to redeploy our resources,” acting RTD Police Chief Steven Martingano said after Denver7 Investigates shared its findings with his department.
However, Denver7 Investigates did learn through its reporting that RTD is not tracking police reports and that RTD does not have cameras monitoring cars in some of its garages.
Martingano told Denver7 that he was not aware of the number of thefts at the Table Mesa Park-N-Ride. At that Park-N-Ride, RTD has 27 cameras in place monitoring elevators, but none monitoring cars on the multiple floors of the garage.
Winton found that news surprising.
“I actually made the assumption that there were cameras, so it’s a huge surprise to me that there aren’t any,” she said.
Trujillo deferred to RTD when asked why there weren’t cameras in that garage. Martingano said he was not able to provide a reason.
Crime of convenience
A catalytic converter is part of an automobile’s exhaust system that turns toxic pollutants into less harmful ones. The converters are valuable due to the precious metals inside. Thieves are sometimes able to sell the converters for hundreds of dollars apiece and can remove the device in seconds.
Thefts have skyrocketed across the country in the past year as criminals can quickly cut off the converter with an electric saw.
Denver7 visited a salvage yard that demonstrated how quickly a catalytic converter can be removed from underneath a car. A technician with an electric saw performed the task in less than 15 seconds.
“Easy money, very fast,” the technician said.
And Denver police warned Friday that they are seeing a pattern of armed “lookouts” standing by as thieves steal catalytic converters and that people should call 911 instead of trying to confront any thieves.
Martingano said he will now meet with his video team to explore adding cameras to Table Mesa Park-N-Ride.
Enyart, whose converter was stolen in that Boulder garage, says that the organization needs to do something to help curb thefts.
“RTD needs to own it, take responsibility and take action,” he said.