Published: 09:05, 21 November 2019
| Updated: 10:13, 21 November 2019
There has been a rapid rise in thefts of catalytic converters from cars across the county.
Police saw a year-on-year increase in the number of emissions devices being stolen, with 214 taken this year up until October 28.
This is compared to 51 such incidents across the whole of 2018 and 25 the year prior.
Catalytic converters are located underneath vehicles, cleaning up harmful gases before they are emitted from the car's exhaust.
They are often targeted by criminals for their precious metals, including palladium and rhodium, which can be resold at illegal scrap merchants.
A steep rise in so-called 'cat thefts' was observed in Dartford which made up more than a quarter of all incidents recorded a total of 54.
This figure was higher than the entire county the previous year, which reached 51 and a sharp increase on the four thefts recorded in the borough across 2018.
Recent thefts include a car parked in Railway Street, Chatham, last Monday and another from Littlebourne Road in Canterbury, on Thursday.
A 22-year-old man from east London was arrested on Tuesday November 5 on suspicion of stealing catalytic converters from multiple victims across Kent.
He was released on bail pending further inquiries until Friday November 29.
Last month Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust spoke out following a spate of thefts from a car park at Darent Valley Hospital.
Police were called after a device was pinched from a community midwife's car, the second incident that month and the fifth since April.
The heist severely damaged the vehicle which had to be taken in for repairs, leaving the NHS worker without transport.
Speaking at the time, trust spokesman Sue Daniels said: "It is extremely disappointing that these thefts have occurred, especially on a hospital site where staff are busy caring for patient and the public are coming for treatment or to visit those that are unwell."
Dover recorded the lowest rate of such incidences with just one crime reported to the police, a decline of two from the previous year.
Between 1 October 2014 and 28 October 2019, Dartford recorded the highest total of thefts with 90. The second and third highest were Medway which reached 62 and Sevenoaks which had 57.
A similar spike occurred in 2015 when police recorded 123 thefts.
Of these Medway was the highest at 22, followed closely by Dartford at 21 and Tonbridge and Malling which saw 19 stolen.
An industrial estate was targeted by thieves last Friday in Ashford, where there has been at least 19 thefts across the borough.
Criminal gangs are believed to target hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius because they contain higher quantities of the precious metals.
They also tend to be in better condition because the emissions device is not used when the vehicle is operating electronically.
Det Supt Mark Weller of Kent Police urged the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour to the police immediately.
He said: "Vehicle crime can have a big impact on victims as repairs can be costly and time spent without a vehicle can make it difficult for victims to get to work, drop their children off at school and generally go about their daily business.
"We are therefore very keen to make motorists aware of the recent increase in catalytic converter thefts and ask that they take steps to protect their vehicles from opportunistic thieves.
"As well as reviewing CCTV footage we are also working closely with partners including car park operators to ensure vehicles are protected as much as possible.
The police chief said the force was also engaging with scrap metal dealers to make it easier to trace those who might be trading illegally.