Joining areas across the nation, Carver and Scott counties are seeing a rise in reported catalytic converter thefts.
The converters, which can re-sell for hundreds of dollars once cut off a car’s underside, carry precious metals. It makes the devices, meant to control emission toxins, enticing to thieves, according to local law enforcement officials.
Though Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said the department rarely goes through a year without seeing catalytic converter thefts, he wouldn’t be surprised to see an increase over the past 12 months.
Hennen sees thefts along Highway 169 between Jordan and Shakopee, he said, especially at big box retailer parking lots.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, Savage saw 36 catalytic converter thefts. It’s more than three times what the Savage Police Department responded to in 2020 with 11 cases, Capt. Bruce Simon said.
“(In) June we started seeing an increase. That continued up until at least one just the other day,” Simon said.
In Prior Lake, the tale is similar. Chief Steve Frazer said in 2018, only two converters were reported stolen to the city’s police department. In 2020, there were nine.
“So far in 2021, we’ve had 6,” he said, noting that was just for the first three months of the year.
Across the Minnesota River, the trend continues.
According to Carver County Sheriff Jason Kamerud, most of the thefts are happening in Chanhassen.
"We have noted an uptick in catalytic converter thefts — 12 this year," he said.
That's seven in January, two in February, and three in March. Beyond Chanhassen, five of the thefts occurred in Waconia, Norwood Young America, and Mayer.
Officials reported 11 thefts in Chaska, not run by the Carver County Sheriff's Office, by mid-March of this year, Chaska Police Department Detective Sgt. Jamie Personius said.
In 2020, there were 30 stolen. In 2018 and 2019, converter thefts hovered between five and seven in the city. In a public post, the department confirmed the thefts are happening in communities across the metro.
WHY THE UPTICK?
Rare metal prices like platinum, found in converters, seem to be rising nationwide at scrap metal yards, Personius said. On top of that, the equipment usually doesn’t have a serial number. That can make them difficult to track if they’re stolen.
He said people can usually get anywhere from $50 to $400 when they scrap them. And if it’s a hybrid car?
“Hybrid vehicles have been targeted more often, such as like a Toyota Prius, because in those hybrids there’s apparently more precious metals so they’re getting upwards of $1,600,” Personius said.
In addition, Kamerud said battery-powered saws are more readily-available and effective these days. It's a common way for people to cut the device.
In 2018, Shakopee resident Jenny McGee’s daughter’s first car had its converter stolen. They live at an apartment complex off Marschall Road, where the 1998 Honda Accord was parked.
It cost her family close to $600 to repair. Her advice to those hoping the same doesn’t happen to them?
“Park in a garage. There really is no way to hide. Mine was right in front of my house in broad daylight,” McGee said.
According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, highly-targeted vehicles include the Prius, Honda Elements, and Mitsubishi Outlanders.
Hennen with Scott County said it’s not necessarily a difficult crime to commit — another incentive for these types of thefts.
“There’s an easy tradeoff for a few minutes of work,” Hennen said. “If you’re going to break into a house versus, you know, you can get a guaranteed $300 for doing this.”
Perhaps surprisingly, newer cars aren’t necessarily prone to catalytic converter thefts.
“We haven’t seen targeting (of) newer vehicles,” Personius said. “They obviously don’t want brand new. It’s gonna look shiny and new, and scrappers won’t take it.”
In March of this year, Chaska resident Amber Houterman’s converter was stolen in the middle of the night.
The stay-at-home mom didn’t know it had been sawed off until her mechanic informed her.
“I took it in because it sounded like a hot rod,” she said of the 2005 Hyundai Tucson.
Luckily, it didn’t put too much of a dent in her wallet.
“The cost could have been exponential but my amazing mechanic walded a pipe in place. Thank you, lack of emissions testing in Minnesota!” she said.
It’s not necessary for cars to have converters, but certain states require it for pollution standards.
HOW TO STOP IT
Local law enforcement officials say it starts with awareness.
Hennen said the department has extra patrols in parking lots, but in-between shifts thefts can still happen.
“The community is our best eyes and ears but if they aren't aware of what to look for, they can't do anything,” Hennen said.
If people see someone hanging around a car or other suspicious activity, they can call their local department or grab the license plate number.
People can also pay attention to where they leave their car, such as parking it in a more public or well-lit area or engrave their converters.
The Chaska Police Department is putting information like this on their social media channels. It’s also looking into starting a program with local auto service shops, Personius said, “to try and help curb the thefts.”
He said the BCA is also working on enacting legislation to curb purchasing on the back end.
“One person or one group of people doing this has a huge impact. They’re going out all night long trying to do this. It’s impactful when you catch somebody and you can stop it,” Hennen said. “They’re not just gonna drive around one neighborhood in Chaska or Shakopee. They’ll drive around four neighborhoods in one night.”