Catalytic converter thefts

Catalytic Converter Thefts in West St. Paul

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The Twin Cities is the worst place in the country for catalytic converter thefts and West St. Paul is looking for solutions. Thefts in West St. Paul have increased from zero in 2019 to 177 in 2021. City council will consider an ordinance and the police department is offering tagging.

The Problem

Every car has a catalytic converter made with precious metals including platinum, palladium, and rhodium. Those metals scrub a vehicle’s exhaust of the worst pollutants, and they’re also extremely valuable. Scrap yards will pay up to $1,000 for a catalytic converter, making them a prime target for thieves.

Stealing a catalytic converter is a quick job. Thieves can slide under a vehicle, use a battery-powered saw to remove the converter, and be gone in minutes or less. Thieves are brazen too, hitting parking lots in broad daylight.

The Numbers

Some people have even had a car hit twice, which speaks to just how frequent the thefts have become. West St. Paul has seen a drastic increase in catalytic converter thefts. Here’s what it looks like over the last five years:

Graph showing catalytic converter thefts in West St. Paul from 2017 to 2021.

So far 2022 is running just behind 2021 in West St. Paul, though metro-wide 2022 is on track to be worse than 2021.

According to the Star Tribune, West St. Paul has seen the fourth highest increase from 2019 to 2021 in the entire Twin Cities.

Solutions

West St. Paul is looking to pass an ordinance making it illegal to possess a catalytic converter without proof of ownership. It’s similar to an ordinance St. Paul passed in 2020. The law hasn’t done a lot to deter thefts, but it does give police a tool.

West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon told City Council they’ve pulled people over and seen catalytic converters in the back seat, but they can’t do anything unless they catch someone in the act.

Another option is tagging catalytic converters with paint or a special sticker. Theoretically, that would keep scrap yards from buying and ultimately deter thefts.

The West St. Paul Police Department has a limited number of serial number stickers that might deter theft. They’re limiting the stickers to specific high-target vehicles, which include: Chevrolet Express, Ford Econoline, Ford F250, Honda Accord, Honda CRV, Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota Prius, Toyota Tundra, and Toyota Rav4.

But action is needed on the state and even federal level, according to Sturgeon. There are no scrap yards in West St. Paul, which means there’s nothing the city can do to regulate scrap yards. That needs to happen at the state level, and Sturgeon has testified at the state capitol for legislation to reduce thefts. No word yet on if it will pass. But even if Minnesota passes something, thieves can simply cross into Wisconsin, which is why federal action is needed.

A 2021 Pioneer Press story on catalytic converter thefts featured Pace’s Tire & Service Center and highlighted how expensive it can be to replace.

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