Converter Coveters 

The platinum inside catalytic converters is hot property, kids wield guns on UCB campus, and fear surrounds missing East Bayites.

They process hot gases so as to keep your car from exuding carbon monoxide. They're about the size of footballs, silvery-bright when new and dull brown when old. They're catalytic converters, and they're the targets in a crime wave that is sweeping the nation.

"We've had up to thirty calls within two days" from customers reporting stolen converters, says Abby Mayes, manager of Ron's Berkeley Muffler. "Mondays and Tuesdays are the worst." Drivers realize they have been robbed when they start their motors. Sans converter, Mayes says, "it sounds like a bomb." Bolted or welded under the chassis, the devices contain platinum, "and the price of platinum went sky-high eleven months ago." At scrap-metal yards, she says, a single "cat" brings as much as $80. Reports throng East Bay neighborhood-watch listservs of converters having been unbolted or severed with battery-operated saws. It happens in driveways, at curbsides — even in store parking lots. One of Mayes' customers walked out of Costco in San Leandro to find his converter gone. The devices can cost as much as $600 to replace.

Thieves hit Ron's Berkeley Muffler a few months ago. "They came in at four in the morning with a bolt-cutter," Mayes remembers, "and tried to cut the locks on our storage shed, thinking we kept old cats inside." They were caught. But the wave is so strong and wide, Mayes says, "that it makes you think maybe some kind of organized outfit is doing this."

Snap, crackle, pop: In the video titled "Oakland Sideshow Car Smashin," posted at YouTube.com on December 8, an A's-jacketed narrator announces: "When you get too stupid, tha town will turn on yo' ass." Behind him, hell-raisers attack a gleaming white four-door vehicle, roaring and laughing as they jump on its hood, stomp its windshield, and try to rip off its doors. "Hell, yeah," the narrator explains. "That dumbass nigga fell out his shit and coulda killed like four niggas. That's why they fuckin' this shit up. That's why." Ah. That explains everything. Someone in the crowd shouts, "What's in the fuckin trunk? Open the trunk!" No sooner said than done. The camera pans shattered glass, a crushed front end. "Pop the hatch!" someone exclaims. "This is what happens," the narrator intones, "when you fuck with tha town and do dumb shit. You ain't from tha town, you don't belong in tha town." That means you, dawg. Don't do dumb shit.

Tag team: A man walking his dog through Berkeley's Malcolm X School on December 9 called the cops to report graffiti that the BPD classified as a "hate incident." Spray-painted on a campus building was "HAIL HITLER." The officer also described a spray-painted "crude-looking face" with "freckles drawn at the nose and cheek areas with a mustache and goatee above and below the mouth." On the wall of an amphitheater was "a toothy smile below jack-o'-lantern-style eyes" above the words "HELLO CHILDREN."

Three's company: When two boys and a girl — they looked around fifteen — asked a Cal student the time on the bike path flanking UC Berkeley's Eucalyptus Grove, she told them. Then one boy seized her shoulder, pressed a gun to her side and threatened her, according to a UC Police report. The girl (wearing a red baseball cap, red hoodie, and matching red shoes — fabu!) blocked the student's path and displayed yet another gun. (Contrasting with her outfit, the lethal weapon was black.) The other boy acted as a lookout. All three escaped on foot, bearing the victim's purse, around 11 a.m. on December 7 — a school day. Someone didn't show up for civics class.

Scout's honor: Berkeley police are contacting hundreds of former Sea Scouts as part of an investigation into Eugene Evans, the Kensington resident, former high-school teacher, and Berkeley Sea Scouts leader arrested on December 4 for six felony charges involving sexual activities with children. "They are attempting to reach out to potential other victims of Mr. Evans," says Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. Given that Evans was a Scout leader for 35 years, some of these potential victims are now middle-aged. "It's a delicate and tedious process. The goal is to allow victims to choose whether they want to participate or not." Kusmiss adds that Evans "has a great deal of support right now from current and former Sea Scouts as well as parents who are incredulous" that his alleged misdeeds "would be possible."

Feeling punchy: Value your face? Stay off BART! On December 8, a man punched a boy in the face and stole his cell phone on the Lake Merritt station platform. On November 28, one man punched another in the face and stole his iPhone on the 12th Street station platform.

Whereabouts unknown: Foul play is feared in the disappearance of Alicia Amanda "Mandy" Stokes, an employee at Cafe Di Bartolo on Oakland's Grand Avenue. According to an OPD report, her mother contacted Oakland police from Atlanta to explain that on November 25, "Stokes and her brother had been involved in an argument and that Stokes had left the residence and had not been heard from since." On November 27, Stokes' car was found in the 5000 block of Park Boulevard, containing personal effects including her cell phone, wallet, and iPod. This search continues.

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