Rio Rancho Public Schools and its students became the latest victims of catalytic-converter theft over Thanksgiving break.
According to a release from RRPS, on Monday, bus drivers noticed check-engine lights and other problems with 10 diesel buses that have specialized equipment, such as wheelchair lifts, to accommodate students with special needs. The district operates 86 buses.
When Transportation Department staff members inspected the vehicles, they found the catalytic converters, the attached filter systems and portions of wiring had been stolen.
“This means we are unable to utilize these buses for student transport due to life-safety concerns,” according to RRPS.
District Communications Manager Melissa Perez estimated repairs would cost $70,000 to $100,000 for all 10 buses. RRPS was sending two buses to a vendor to get a more precise estimate.
“We will need to cover the cost of parts and then also the labor to repair, which could add up to a significant dollar amount,” she said. “Plus, there is a possibility that portions of wiring damaged on one bus may not be damaged on others. So we really have to wait and see what our vendor quotes us.”
She said insurance was expected to help with costs.
The Transportation Center has security measures, including surveillance cameras.
“Our Safety and Security Department is gathering footage and working closely with the Rio Rancho Police Department on this matter,” Perez said.
Thirty-six students with special needs were affected, with delays anticipated to be 10-15 minutes. RRPS borrowed three buses from Albuquerque Public Schools for those students.
On Nov. 27, before the theft from RRPS, Rio Rancho Police Sgt. Peter Rogahn said at least nine thefts of catalytic converters had been reported to RRPD in about the last month.
“For one of the reported incidents, there was sufficient information provided and/or evidence available that the case has been assigned to a Criminal Investigations Division Property Crimes Unit detective for further investigation,” Rogahn said in an email.
He said a review of reports indicated thieves were targeting larger vehicles, such as trucks or vans, with bigger exhaust systems and more accessible undercarriages. It didn’t appear they wanted specific models or ages of vehicles, and the age of vehicles affected ranged from 22 years to about a year.
“The reported time frames vary so that no specific determination of when the incidents are likely to occur can be made,” Rogahn said. “A majority of the reports list that the vehicles were in parking lots when the incidents occurred.”
He said no information was available on exactly where thieves sold catalytic converters. If people can’t park their vehicles in a locked garage, Rogahn recommended parking in well-lit conspicuous places to deter thieves, who would have to crawl under the car to saw off catalytic converters.