Saint-Paul seeks to toughen catalytic converter law, making possession a crime

Sam Hermann realized that his catalytic converter had been stolen one morning in late November on his way to work. His car was very noisy and had difficulty starting – telltale signs of the theft overnight.

Hermann, a 22-year-old who lives in the St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood, said his insurance covered the repair, leaving him $ 500 for his deductible. The experience was not fun, but he knows it would be more difficult for others.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I know if I was in different circumstances with less help from my parents, and if I had a lower income, it would be a much bigger deal,” Hermann said. . “It seems like a small thing to steal. But I can see it really ruins someone’s life for a while.”

The prevalence of such thefts in the capital – despite earlier efforts to crack down – prompted St. Paul City Council to explore a change to an existing ordinance that would make it a crime to own a catalytic converter not attached to a motor vehicle without proof of ownership.

“Our law enforcement officers have a hard time arresting people who have clearly removed their catalytic converters, who have a Sawzall in their car. But then they’ll say, ‘These are ours’ or’ We have them. received from a friend “” Council President Amy Brendmoen told the council at a meeting on Dec. 15.

The council is due to vote on the amendment to the ordinance on Jan. 19, after further review by the city attorney’s office.

Brendmoen and a majority of board members sponsored a May 2020 order that made it a crime for an unlicensed person or business to buy or sell a detached catalytic converter.

Flights have increased in St. Paul and Minneapolis and across the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Saint-Paul in 2021, there were 1,947 catalytic flights, or more than five per day – compared to more than 1,000 thefts in 2020, less than 500 in 2019 and only 144 in 2018, according to Steve Linders, agent of police information.

Thieves are looking for the precious metals inside the catalytic converter, which looks like a honeycomb, said Brandon Trondson of Glasgow Auto in St. Paul. A “bad” converter looks dirty and won’t cost much, but a thief could get as much as $ 700 for a clean, newer converter, he said.

Replacing the catalytic converter costs about $ 1,500, which cost St. Paul residents about $ 3 million in repairs last year, said Senior Cmdr. Kurt Hallstrom told the board on Dec.15.

“If we can’t specifically tie this catalytic converter to the vehicle… we can’t prove for sure that it is in fact a theft,” he said. “So we basically let this individual go.”

In Highland Park, Jennifer Jones had her catalytic converter stolen not once but twice in December 2020. She had had her car for less than three months when it was first taken. The second time this happened, shortly after her vehicle was returned by the mechanic, she tearfully watched from her home as her catalytic converter was stolen again.

“I just sat by my window crying, I was so traumatized by it all,” said Jones, 44.

The perpetrators are difficult to locate, Hallstrom said.

“These are truly crimes of opportunity that happen in the wee hours of the night in the dark,” he said. “The trends of the past two years show that we have peaks during the winter … when the nights are longer.”

The police department invited 5,700 residents to a catalytic converter painting program over the summer months, and 1,600 people had their converters painted with the department’s logo, Hallstrom said.

But this symbol was not enough to protect Hermann’s car. “I’m just theorizing, but I think they can steal them and sell them to people who don’t care if there’s paint on them,” he said.

A little spray paint doesn’t make much of a difference to people buying stolen catalytic converters, Trondson said, because the metals are immediately melted.

For Jones, making owning a catalytic converter a crime is just the start. She said she paid $ 1,400 for the repairs and wanted to see more officers on patrol to avoid future thefts.

“They don’t realize how much they hurt people,” Jones said of the thieves. “Some people don’t have that kind of money to spend on fixing their cars.”

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