OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Even during the surge of catalytic converter thefts across the San Francisco Bay Area, the quick-working thief recorded on cell phone video in Oakland drew a stunned reaction.
A couple told KPIX 5 they were driving in the Eastmont neighborhood near 73rd and Outlook avenues Wednesday when the car in front of them came to a stop. A passenger jumped out, crawled under a parked car and removed the converter. It all took just a matter of minutes.
The couple said they reported the crime to police. There was no word on any arrests.
Since the start of the pandemic, investigators say, the Bay Area has experienced an increase in catalytic converter thefts. Many of the thefts have become increasingly brazen and suspects are often armed with guns.
Dozens arrests have been made as cities across the region have launched intensified police operations targeting the surge, but the thefts continue.
Earlier this week, a six-month-long investigation in San José busted up a 'Black Market Costco' of stolen converters.
Police arrested 15 suspects, seized illegal weapons, over $50,000 in cash and the recovered over 1,000 converters believed to have been stolen from vehicles throughout the Bay Area.
Named 'Operation Cat Scratch Thiever' the investigation targeted prolific catalytic converter thieves and the illegal underground market that has fueled the surging crime trend.
There were 84 catalytic converter thefts reported in San Jose in 2019, 724 in 2020 and 1,087 so far in 2021.
"The message is simple. This is not the conclusion. If you're out participating in this activity, we're gonna be looking for you. If you're a business buying these illicitly, we are going to target you, and we are going to shut you down, just like we did to these other three (businesses)," said San Jose Police Sgt. Christian Camarillo.
Among the 15 suspects was 52-year-old Robert Frank, the owner of Green Metal Recycling in Campbell. He has been charged with possessing about $3 million worth of stolen converters. After identifying Frank as a suspected "fence" officers searched Frank's business and home to uncover the illegal stockpile.
"It was like a black market Costco," said Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara County District Attorney. "This crime is causing car owners and sellers to spend hard-earned money to replace parts and protect their cars. We won't stand by and let thieves profit by stripping your car in its parking space."
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