Las VEGAS (FOX5) -- Catalytic converter thieves continue their assault on valley vehicle owners. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said there have been 717 reports of stolen catalytic converters since January of this year, with 20 arrests.

 LVMPD said it wants the public to know it takes the crime very seriously.

"We are dedicating resources to this problem. And we have identified this as a major problem," Northeast Area Command Lieutenant Noel Roberts said.

Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system which helps cut down on harmful emissions. Metro said thieves steal and sell them to others who melt down precious metals inside. Some of the metals are worth more than gold.

Car dealership catalytic coverter

Roberts said about three months ago, Metro detectives from ten command areas partnered with the North Las Vegas Police Department, Henderson Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office. He said the group of about 30 to 40 people, have been meeting once a month to share information and identify trends on catalytic converter thefts to help stop the ongoing problem. He said Metro police is working with law enforcement agencies out of state regarding the issue.

Lt. Roberts said Metro detectives visited several scrap yards around the valley to explain what’s been happening. Some people who’ve had their catalytic converters stolen believe police need to go after scrap yards that buy stolen converters. It is not illegal for scrap yards to buy catalytic converters and some will not buy them without identification.

"We made contact with them (scrap yards) to keep a good communication with them and just to remind them of the statues and ordinances they must follow when people are coming in with these catalytic converters. And that has helped a lot," Roberts said.

Roberts said some thieves are working in small organized groups around the valley and have noticed more cases where people will steal a car, only to dump it somewhere later after cutting out the catalytic converter.

Roberts said he believes some catalytic converters are being sent to Mexico, Canada and China.

One man who lives in the Las Vegas Academy area downtown said someone just stole his catalytic converter at his apartment complex. He did not want to be identified or reveal exactly where he lives, fearing the thieves will return to steal his replaced catalytic converter. He said the theft happened at 4 p.m. in the afternoon. He said he heard a loud sawing noise and went outside to check it out. He said he saw a full-size gray van, with wooden panels on the side, quickly take off. He said it cost him more than $1400.00 to replace the converter because he only had liability insurance on his car.

Police are asking for the public’s help in tracking down suspects. They advise the public to fill out a report, so officers know when and where thefts are happening. Police also urge people to either paint or etch an identification number onto their converter.

“So, when we come across these subjects that have these catalytic converters in their possession…we can trace this back to a victim we might not have been able to do without these markings," Roberts said.

Police said they have found stolen guns on some of the suspects they have arrested, who they said have violent criminal histories. Police said those arrests help cut down on violent crime in the city.

To prevent a theft, police advise keeping your car in a garage, if possible. They said park in well lit areas and mentioned that people can install catalytic converter plates on their cars to make it more difficult for thieves to cut them out.

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