Since the start of the semester, a number of catalytic converters from cars, as well as parts from bikes have been stolen around campus.
It is no secret that bike thefts have always been prevalent on Kenyon’s campus. Last December, however, bike thefts went up significantly due to the onset of economic problems caused by the pandemic. Bike Barn Manager Sejin Kim ’22 believes the pandemic has caused a shortage in the supply chain, leading previously inexpensive bike parts to skyrocket in price. Kim says that, for bike thieves, these parts can translate to easy profits.
“The supply chain collapsing meant that parts that would have cost 3 [or] 4 bucks are now costing 10 to 15 dollars, which, for us in the Bike Barn, makes things really difficult [to replace parts],” Kim said.
According to Director of Campus Safety Michael Sweazey, reports of bike thefts have dropped significantly since last semester. He credits this to the combined efforts of Campus Safety officers, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Mount Vernon Police Department, which issued an arrest warrant for one Joseph Fulton, a bike theft suspect. Sweazey believes the warrant will help discourage other potential bicycle thieves.
But Kenyon has recently been hit by a new wave of theft: Multiple students have reported their cars being stripped of their catalytic converters, the exhaust emission control devices that convert gas emissions into less harmful substances. This conversion process relies on multiple precious metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium, which can be scrapped for profit.
The converter thefts have left parents of students concerned. Some have taken to Facebook boards to express their complaints with the situation.
“I’m surprised they don’t have a security camera in that parking lot since it’s so remote,” one parent wrote. “[My son] arrived to school with a perfectly working car … he went to take it out to do some errands, and it was just making a terrible noise. I got this text back from him: ‘I called the place, and that was exactly the issue: my catalytic converter has been stolen, and there’s damage from where the bottom of the car was cut through to get to it.’”
According to data analytics company J.D. Power, an average catalytic converter can be sold for $800 to $1,200, depending on the vehicle’s make and model.
“This is another case of the pandemic causing the value of materials, in this case rare metals, to increase significantly,” Sweazey said. “The extremely high prices of the metals within the converters is what is driving the thefts.”
Kyle Boozer ’25 had his catalytic converter stolen only days after he arrived on campus. Boozer found Kenyon’s failure to effectively manage the situation to be even more troubling than the theft itself.
“I was very upset over the fact that this occurred on campus when I was given a [parking] space. I paid a lot of money for it,” Boozer said. “The repairs are going to have to come out of my insurance and out of my pocket because Kenyon can’t cover it.”
Campus Safety notified him of the theft, recommending that he file a police report. Boozer’s next steps are to figure out how to have his car repaired, though this is also proving to be a frustrating task because he has no form of transportation.
“Driving without a catalytic converter is actually illegal, and also one of the bad things about it is that since it’s connected to the exhaust, instead of moving all the bad fumes going outside, it will move under your car, which can get in and cause carbon monoxide poisoning,” Boozer said.
He says that Kenyon offered little help in responding to his vehicle’s converter theft.
“I just feel like the only thing they were really able to offer me was a ride down to the parking lot,” Boozer said.
Sweazey says that Campus Safety is aggressively patrolling parking lots in hopes of preventing more thefts. In addition, deputies from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office have also increased their patrols in the area, and currently have open investigations into local organized theft rings.
“I encourage students to contact Campus Safety if they observe any suspicious person or activity on campus. Without putting themselves at any risk, they should call Campus Safety or report the activity through the RAVE Guardian App immediately,” Sweazey said. “Try to include a description of the person, where/what the person is doing, and the description and license tag of any vehicles. (A partial plate number can also be helpful.)”
Still, Boozer believes that there could have been more of an effort from Campus Safety to help students who were affected by this string of thefts.
“They claim that they’ve got good security that walks around, but the fact that this was still able to happen kind of shows that security could be better,” Boozer said.