BURLINGTON COUNTY, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Westampton Township police are investigating the theft of 12 catalytic converters from Burlington County school buses sometime over the weekend.
The converters were stored at a bus yard on Pioneer Boulevard in Westampton, New Jersey.
Officials say a small number of Burlington County students from the County Institute of Technology and special services were affected and had to learn at home Monday and Tuesday because of the thefts.
Police say catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, made worse by the pandemic.
"They gained access to the property by cutting a hole in the fence. Went in and were out within minutes," said Lt. Brian Ferguson with Westampton Township police.
Investigators are reviewing surveillance video from the bus lot.
Police say thefts of the valuable car parts, which are part of a vehicle's exhaust system and control emissions, spiked last year when a lot of vehicles were sitting idle.
At Springside Automotive in Westampton, mechanics are finishing up a job on a church van that had one stolen.
It can cost hundreds or even thousands to replace a catalytic converter.
"It seems they can get enough that they're willing to do it, which is a shame," said owner Dan Procopio. "They're taking them from people, churches, and schools - you name it. It seems like they're pretty sophisticated."
While New Jersey requires scrap yards to ask for a photo ID or driver's license from anyone selling materials and to keep records, police say not everyone plays by the rules.
"If you were to go on the Facebook marketplace right now and type in 'catalytic converters,' there's a picture of a white van with about 100 catalytic converters piled up inside. So they're either selling them like that or selling them through unscrupulous garages," said Ferguson.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the pandemic has driven up catalytic converter thefts. They're made using precious metals, which are worth a lot of money - especially now.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply chain and the mining of these precious metals are difficult to get, which has caused the price to go up exponentially.
If you can park your car inside a garage, that's the safest place, police say. And make sure your car's alarm system is working.
Police add etching your car's VIN onto the catalytic converter can help to deter thieves.
So far, no arrests have been made in this case.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Westampton Township Police Department.