North Vancouver RCMP catch would-be catalytic converter thief under parked minivan at 3 a.m.

A catalytic converter is seen in this photo provided by North Vancouver RCMP.

A North Vancouver RCMP officer was in the right place at the right time earlier this week when he managed to stop the theft of a catalytic converter in the middle of the night.

The detachment said in a news release that the officer was on a routine patrol around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, July 6, when he noticed a person on his back underneath a parked minivan.

The minivan was unoccupied, and the would-be thief had left his own car running nearby, with the driver's side door open, police said.

The officer approached the man, who "attempted to get in his car and flee the scene," according to RCMP. He was unable to get away, police said, adding that further investigation led to the discovery of "multiple angle grinders and cut catalytic converters" in the suspect's car.

Catalytic converters are a part of the exhaust systems of gasoline-powered vehicles. They reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in the vehicles' emissions.

Thieves across the Lower Mainland have been stealing catalytic converters in recent months, sometimes for resale, but more often for the scrap value of the rare metals the converters contain.

Last month, police in Delta reported being called to seven different catalytic converter theft incidents in a single day. 

Police in other jurisdictions have also issued warnings about the thefts, which can take just a few minutes for thieves to complete. 

North Vancouver RCMP said installing a replacement catalytic converter can cost theft victims hundreds of dollars.

Police advise parking indoors, if possible, or parking in a well-lit area to reduce the risk of catalytic converter thefts.

Staff Sgt. Doug Trousdell, spokesperson for North Vancouver RCMP, called the officer's efforts to thwart the theft earlier this week "a great example of proactive police work."

"A stolen catalytic converter causes a lot of expense and aggravation for the owner of the vehicle, but more importantly, when a thief cuts away a piece of a vehicle, there is a real risk of making the vehicle unsafe," Trousdell said in the news release. "The unsuspecting owner might start driving, not knowing their fuel line or brakes have been compromised."