By Alice Gainer

CLIFTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — As CBS2 previously reported, there has been an increase in catalytic converter thefts across the country.

The metals used to make them — platinum, palladium and rhodium — have all gone up in value.

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The latest victims in our area? A nonprofit group. Their vans used to transport people with disabilities are now out of service.

Eleven of the 14 wheelchair-accessible vans used by the North Jersey Elks Development Disabilities Agency had their catalytic converters ripped out.

“We didn’t know it until Monday morning when we were actually going to start the vehicles and go pick up our clients,” Executive Director Rachel Herrington told CBS2’s Alice Gainer. “My heart just sank.”

The group operates schools for children with special needs and an adult day program.

“It affects the services for the adults, because many of them don’t have a means of transportation to get to and from our adult center,” Herrington said. “So if we can’t go get them, they can’t come in, which takes away their ability to have a little bit of an independent life, and socialize with their friends and engage in activities that are a little more meaningful for them.”

The theft happened at a lot along Route 46 sometime over the weekend.

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Nearby Champion Auto Center in Clifton has seen an increase in customers with catalytic converters stolen. Someone came in just a few days ago.

“Sometime a few — two, three cars — sometime one, but every week I have some issue, customer complaining,” said Joe Nahas, of Champion Auto Center.

Clifton Police say they get calls almost daily for this kind of theft.

“When we come in in the morning, rest assured we got a couple thefts from overnight,” Det. Lt. Robert Bracken said. “Until the scrapyards are held more accountable, this is going to be a continuous problem. That’s the way it is.”

Herrington said this happened before. A few years ago, two vans had catalytic converters stolen. She had a message for the person or persons responsible.

“Think before they do things like this. This is not just impacting one person. This is impacting some of our most vulnerable adults and population,” she said.

She said repairs to the vans could cost a few thousand dollars each. They’re now looking into more security options.

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Alice Gainer