Thieves targeting early education centers in Cleveland neighborhoods


CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – Thieves are creating a hardship for hundreds of Cleveland families with children who attend the Horizon Education Centers.

The centers provide early childhood education and daycare for needy kids.

Unfortunately, the fleet of buses at three of the centers in the city are being targeted by thieves, who have been caught on video cutting off catalytic converters in the middle of the night.

They have struck more than 20 times over the past two years, and the center on W. 25th St. in the Ohio City neighborhood has been hit several times in just the past couple weeks.

The impact is being felt by the families who depend on the center to care for their children.

“A lot of these kids are already struggling. The pandemic was terrible for them. There’s tons of learning losses and now we can’t provide services for kids, we can’t pick them up from school or take them to school because our buses are in the garage. I mean, when they take a catalytic converter off, it costs us four or five days of a vehicle being down,” said Horizon Education Centers Executive Director David Smith.

In one of the crimes, a man was caught on video driving around in a truck, then parking and cutting the converters off of three of the buses.

Then, just a couple days later, the man returned on a bike and stole another converter.

The crimes are creating a difficult situation for the nonprofit organization that operates the education centers. 

“It costs $3,500 to fix it, and a lot of people say ‘Well hey, you have insurance, you’re okay.’ No, we have a $5,000 deductible on our insurance. This is actually coming right out of our funds. We’re supposed to be providing food, educational services and everything else, and it’s all because these people are stealing our catalytic converters” said Smith. 

Catalytic converters are valuable to thieves because they contain precious metals like platinum that can easily be converted to cash paid by metal recycling companies.

Parents of some of the children who attend the education centers have taken the step of appealing directly to Cleveland Police and members of city council to come up with a plan to stop the thieves.

“If we can’t transport these kids back and forth to school, then the parents have to do it and the parents have to leave work and it hurts everybody. If [the thieves] could just understood the impact it has on this neighborhood and this community and our most valuable resource, our children, you know, it’s really terrible. Please stop it,” said Smith.

The organization is now considering the placement of cages over the catalytic converters on the buses to stop the crooks from cutting them off.

Anyone who can identify the suspects shown in surveillance videos is asked to call Cleveland Police.

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