ORCHARD BEACH, The Bronx (PIX11) — A public event by the NYPD designed to prevent a growing crime trend was in such great demand that officers started it two hours early and still had to turn people away.

Members of the department’s auto crime unit etched identification numbers onto people’s catalytic converters to help prevent them from getting stolen.

The need was clearly on display, as theft victim Desirée Pabon pointed out. She’d come for an etching after her converter was stolen on two different occasions. 

“The first time was back in February of this year,” she said while officers etched numbers onto her catalytic converter with an acid stencil. “I then got a refurbished one,” Pabon continued. “And then I got a brand new one, and I got cut. It wasn’t even a week old.”

She was among the more than 350 car owners who’d managed to get in line for the free service before the NYPD had to turn people away due to time constraints.

The event, which was scheduled to go from noon to 4 p.m., ended up starting two hours early because officers arrived at 8 a.m. to start setting up, and there were already dozens of cars waiting. 

Most of the cars that made the cutoff had to wait between 90 minutes and two-and-a-half hours to get their chemical etching. 

Virtually everyone who PIX11 interviewed said that it was worth the wait. 

Brian Kornbulm said that catalytic converter thefts in his neighborhood, Co-op City, were frequent. 

“If it helps,” he said. “It’s a great program.”

Mary Corti Ortiz, who lives near Throgs Neck, concurred. “Now, I have more peace of mind,” she said. 

The NYPD reports a 238 percent increase from January to October of last year and the same period this year of devices. They use particles of precious metals to reduce levels of toxic gases in car exhaust, as Detective Thomas Kelly of the auto crime unit pointed out. 

“Platinum, palladium and rhodium,” Kelly said. “All of them, driven by the market value, they go for thousands of dollars an ounce.”

The etching is actually done with a stencil, through which an acidic staining substance is applied. 

“And when the converter heats up,” Kelly said. “That number burns in.” 

Inspector Robert La Pollo, the commanding officer of the auto crime unit, elaborated on the process and where it can lead. 

“With the stencil on there, and it’s permanently embedded with the acid,” he said in an interview. “We’ll be able to identify it and have a successful outcome in prosecution.” 

After each etching was done, officers placed a sticker on the window of each car that now holds an etched converter.

Corti Ortiz, the car owner who lives near Throgs Neck, said that the whole process made her feel safer overall. 

“Of course, they could still steal it,” she said. “But they’re gonna defer when they see those stickers and the number.” 

Pabon, who’d twice been the victim of catalytic converter theft, said that the stenciling program is vital. 

“I highly recommend it,” she said. “Because catalytic converters are extremely expensive.”

She spoke from experience. Thieves can sell the converters for $400 to $500 a piece illegally, according to the NYPD. Replacing them can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000.