Ah, the wheel. It’s mankind’s greatest invention. It’s also become quite a hot commodity for thieves in the northwest Bronx. We’re talking about wheels for cars, including tires and rims.
All over Riverdale and Kingsbridge, the tire-less cars can be found: a black Honda Accord by P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil, a white Honda CR-V by Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, a metallic CR-V in front of Moss Cafe.
Photos taken after the fact tell much of the story: As fast as a NASCAR pit crew, the perps jack up the vehicle, unscrew the bolts and remove the wheels — leaving the car balancing, as is often the case, on cinderblocks.
Over the past year, the theft of car parts has become a booming business in the northwest Bronx. Of the 641 grand larcenies committed this year, by far the vast majority — 216 — came from the theft of “vehicular or motorcycle” accessories. Compare that to last year when only 59 of the 445 grand larcenies came from theft of car parts. That’s more than a 250 percent jump in the 50th precinct alone.
“Where we’re seeing these clusters happen, it’s all Henry Hudson Parkway,” said Sgt. Vincent Caprino when asked by The Riverdale Press at a recent 50th precinct community council meeting.
“It’s very easy to go along the service road … steal rims and tires, load them up in the car, and then just hop on the highway and go either up to Yonkers or go back into Manhattan.”
Weekly reports from the 50th Precinct show that victims estimate the value of the tires and rims to be anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 each.
Another car part getting a lot of special attention from thieves recently: the catalytic converter. According to the New York Post, 5,548 converters were stolen through Aug. 14 of this year. In 2021, there had only been 1,505 by the same time in August.
Sgt. Caprino agreed that the theft of catalytic converters is one of the biggest problems citywide for the police.
“One of the issues is (that) those parts are not easily traceable. So when these guys go and they cut these catalytic converters out, there’s no way to really track whose converter is,” he said. “So what they’ll do is they’ll take these converters and they will sell them to various shops.”
Working in teams, Caprino continued, the group will double park in front of a car, usually at night, while one perp gets under the car to saw off the converter, which can then be resold for around $1,000.
“These guys are very crafty,” he said. “To mask the noise of the saw they will actually play music relatively loud.”
At least one person in the city council is trying to nip that practice in the bud. In September, Councilman Justin Brannan introduced a bill that would prohibit scrap metal shops from buying and selling used catalytic converters.
“Cops can’t be everywhere at all times,” Brannan told The Riverdale Press in the fall. “The only way to put an end to this is by prohibiting the scrap metal dealers from purchasing catalytic converters in the first place. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know if a guy comes in looking to sell 10 catalytic converters that they’re all stolen.”
Whether thieves are targeting wheels more than catalytic converters is unclear as data provided by the NYPD does get that granular. Still, anecdotal evidence from residents suggests tires are the loot du jour.
A resident who lives off Independence Avenue told The Press he’s definitely seen a significant rise in car thefts since the summer. So much so, that in order to deter would-be thieves, he has tried parking his car in well-lit areas, as he does not have access to a secure garage.
The 50th Precinct said it is trying to curb the spike in car-part thefts. “We want to deploy our units in areas that are seeing these spikes, looking for some of those signs,” Caprino said.
“If it’s two in the morning and someone’s double parked and the car’s idling, you might want to check that out, from our end at least.”
He added that he is planning on partnering with neighboring precincts to see if they can identify common themes and patterns in order to track down suspected crime rings.
But even still, thefts of all stripes have skyrocketed in the northwest Bronx. According to NYPD’s crime statistics for the 50th, there has been a 44 percent increase in grand larcenies this year compared to 2021, a 30 percent increase in burglaries, and a 75 percent increase in robberies. For grand larcenies, this is the highest number seen since the NYPD began publishing its crime statistics back in 1993.