FAIRFIELD — A thief can steal the catalytic converter from a car in 60 seconds – meaning the three separate thefts from a family car of Fairfield resident David Samson may have taken just minutes at the Fairfield Transportation Center next to the West Texas Street exit off Interstate 80.
Samson has paid $1,500 in insurance deductibles to replace the converters stolen the past two months from the Toyota Tundra his wife Angela parks at the transportation center garage before traveling to her job in San Francisco.
The latest converter theft took place Monday and has David Samson, 45, wondering what the city will do about the thefts that he said a security guard told him total 30 at the transportation center.
Adding surveillance cameras at the three-story parking garage would make sense, Samson said, to deter criminals who steal converters for their metals – including platinum, iron and nickel.
“Nobody seems to be doing anything about it,” Samson said of the thefts at the transportation center.
Wayne Lewis, assistant transportation director for Fairfield, said the city pays up to $175,000 yearly for security guards at the Cadenasso Drive center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cameras are under consideration, he said, for the parking structure that opened a decade ago. Another city parking site along Red Top Road that opened in 2011 has cameras costing about $16,000 but adding them to the transportation center would be more complicated and costly because of the size of the three-story garage, he said.
“It’s a matter of funding and time,” Lewis said. “It’s quite an extensive project.”
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price supports installing surveillance cameras at the transportation center and became convinced of their value after the arrests of terrorist suspects in London where buses were bombed. Closed circuit cameras helped lead to the arrests.
“I was always a great fan of George Orwell,” Price said of the writer who in the book “1984″ warned against “Big Brother” watching citizens. But the mayor said modern life requires measures including surveillance cameras. He linked crimes like catalytic converter thefts to the state of California’s release of prison inmates under its criminal justice realignment plan.
Property crimes take place elsewhere in the city, said Price, who said a letter carrier spoke about a resident of west Fairfield discovering all four wheels stolen overnight from the car parked in the driveway.
Fairfield resident Vanessa Carranza, at the transportation center Tuesday, said she’s not surprised at the converter thefts.
“This area’s really bad,” she said of crime. “Every city has a part of town that’s bad.”
Shaun Matison, a camera car operator for a repossession company, said he drives through the Fairfield parking garage several times as the car mounted camera system records license plate numbers. He sees security guards regularly patrolling the site, but Matison has not seen anyone stealing catalytic converters.
Police in Stockton found 37 catalytic converters during a June search of a home and arrested three suspects. Stockton police spokesman Joseph Silva said such thefts started about two years ago.
“It’s pretty common in the valley,” Silva said.
Detectives visit recycling centers and scrap yards to question who’s been trying to sell converters, he said.
Pickup trucks and SUVs are more vulnerable to converter theft because they’re higher off the ground and thieves can more easily slide underneath the vehicle, said Jarret Dunbar, a spokesman for Ohio-based Nationwide Insurance.
Theft of a converter, about the size of two loaves of bread, leaves a car owner with not only equipment to replace but vehicle damage from the way criminals remove the converter, Dunbar said.
“They don’t take their time,” Dunbar said. “They just rip it out.”
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.