Springfield College Public Safety is on high alert after 11 students have had expensive car parts stolen overnight from their cars while parked in school lots. The robberies have been occurring throughout the City of Springfield with 50-60 incidents reported citywide, according to Public Safety.
The thieves began targeting Springfield College students on Aug. 29 with the first incident reported on Aug. 30 and the last incident reported on Sept. 29. They’re specifically looking for catalytic converters and especially Hondas with Connecticut license plates.
Ofc. Richard Spaulding, member of Public Safety, said the Honda converters the thieves are stealing contain a special kind of expensive metal that can be melted down and potentially sold.
“The catalytic converter has different types of precious metals, trace amounts,” stated Spaulding.
“I believe it’s platinum that Hondas use more of, so when they take the catalytic converters, they kind of wash out the metals from them and mold them together to try to get more out of it,” he added.
Students will clearly be able to tell if their converter was stolen because when removed, a car will sound as loud as an 18-wheeler truck once started.
Public Safety has gone to great lengths in attempting to catch the thieves and keeping students’ cars safe. They began lengthening their shifts, with officers staying until 3:00 a.m. to monitor lots overnight, and have advised students with Hondas to park in Lot 9 next to the Public Safety building.
Officers have also been participating in stakeouts in lots across campus, with some volunteering their own personal vehicles to wait in the lots in plain sight.
Sgt. Dan Cotter was able to identify and file a criminal complaint against one individual, whose vehicle matched the description of one of the three believed to be targeting campus, by waiting in an unmarked police car in plain clothes.
Though the team did not physically arrest the individual they identified, they were able to complete the paperwork side of an arrest by filing a criminal complaint. The alleged thief will now need to come to their court date at the Springfield District Court, and Ofc. Spaulding reassured students that the individual will be arrested if they step foot on campus.
“It’s been a week since we’ve had any incidents, so hopefully it’s died down a little bit. They definitely know we’re out there now with extra patrolling at night,” said Spaulding.
One of the 11 unfortunate Honda owners, Matt Herrmann, said he had his catalytic converter stolen between Sept. 24 and Sept. 28. Herrmann, a junior from Hamden, Conn., had not driven his car since that Friday the 24, and was trying to go to class when he made the shocking discovery.
“Tuesday morning, me and my roommates were going to my class at East Campus and I was driving,” said Herrmann.
“I started my car, and all of a sudden I knew something was wrong because it sounded like a broken lawnmower, like, times ten.”
Herrmann ended up getting a ride in his roommate’s car to East Campus, and found out through conversations with classmates that vehicles like his had been getting hit overnight.
“Eventually, in my class, another student told me that their friend got theirs stolen,” stated Herrmann.
“Once I got back from my class, I looked under my car and the whole undercarriage was just empty, basically. It was all gone,” he recalled.
Herrmann walked to Public Safety, who helped him file a report on the incident on Sept. 28. The business student’s problems were far from over, though. He had to call his father, who came to check out the car and decide what steps they needed to take next.
Herrmann’s father ended up driving the car home to be repaired, but Herrmann was actually lucky in that the thieves did not cut the starter wires on his black 2006 Accord. He stated that he knew of other victims whose entire undercarriage of their cars was wrecked by the thieves.
“I know some other people, [the thieves] got their starters; they did ‘accidental’ damage to a lot of cars other than the converter… some people got their starters cut by ‘accident,’ my O2 sensors got messed up, so I had to get my whole undercarriage redone,” said Herrmann.
Insurance covered the majority of Herrmann’s car repairs, with the family only paying $500 of the $3,000 damages inflicted. He said his car itself is only worth about $4,500, meaning his bill was as almost as expensive as the entire vehicle.
Now, Herrmann should be getting his car back by Oct. 7, but this doesn’t signify the end of troubles for Springfield College students. Ofc. Spaulding said that though there hasn’t been a new incident in about a week, Honda-owning students should still be parking in Lot 9.
“When we feel there hasn’t been an incident in a long enough time — we’re working with the Springfield Police Department as well — when we feel there’s been enough time between these incidents, we’ll put out another email to everybody,” said Ofc. Spaulding.
For now, the best students can do is to stay vigilant for the three vehicle descriptions provided in an email to the campus on Sept. 28, and report any suspicious activity to Public Safety. Their number is (413) 748-5555, and Spaulding strongly encourages the phrase, “If you see something, say something.”
Photo Courtesy Irene Rotondo