PHOENIX — The crime wave of catalytic converter thefts is continuing across the Valley.
A Phoenix man needs to weld his converter back onto his car after his vehicle was targeted. He has the important car part though, because he tailed the alleged thief for miles.
Sunday night Bryan Rodriguez noticed something was off when he was pulling into his apartment.
"This car was halfway out of the parking spot I was ready to pull into," said Rodriguez.
His mind immediately flashed to weeks earlier when a sensor surrounding his catalytic converter was sliced.
"That right there raised a suspicion because I had already recognized that black Mitsubishi SUV," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez jumped under his car and saw his precious converter had been chopped off.
"I got in my driver's seat and said, 'Hey, I'm about to go look for the car,'" he said.
It didn't take long before they caught up with the suspected thieves.
"We made a right and we met them at the light," said Rodriguez. "I rolled the window down and I said, 'Hey, you guys have my converter.' And that's when they started to drive off."
For roughly half an hour Bryan and his partner tailed the thieves.
"We ended up getting on the freeway and I got on the phone with police," he said. "My adrenaline was through the roof."
The Phoenix police chopper even got overhead, and the dispatchers told Rodriguez and his partner to pull off at a gas station and wait.
"A police officer met us there about 10 minutes later, and then they were like, 'We need to identify the vehicle we pulled over,'" he recalled.
Not long after, an officer was handing Bryan back his converter and the accused thief was cuffed.
"It was a lot of luck," said Rodriguez.
Most victims never catch the crooks, let alone recover the converter. They are forced to pay thousands, many times out of pocket, for a new converter. The problem is not subsiding either.
In 2019, Phoenix PD took 72 reports of stolen catalytic converters. The number ballooned to 715 in 2020.
Then in 2021, it exploded to 4,714 reported thefts.
"The value of those [converters] has skyrocketed recently," said Sgt. Andy Williams, a spokesperson for Phoenix PD.
In 2022, Phoenix PD tells ABC15 they are on pace again for more than 4,100 thefts.
Criminals also know that if they are not caught in the act it is hard for police to hold them accountable.
"With it being an unserialized part, with there being legitimate reasons why a business would have tons of these converters on hand, [and] the fact that these thieves can commit this crime in about a minute or two, in the dead of night -- it's just difficult all the way around," said Sgt. Williams.
Phoenix police say they appreciate good witnesses, but they want people to always prioritize safety.
"It's probably not a great idea to go approach a [converter thief] since they're already likely armed with a weapon, like a saw," said Sgt. Williams.
Something is being done legislatively, to try and help police departments with enforcement.
The Arizona House already approved and is sending HB2652 to the State Senate. The bill, proposed by Rep. Diego Espinoza, would essentially make it illegal for people to possess a used converter unless they are an authorized buyer or seller. It would also add reporting requirements and add stricter civil penalties.