As of June 15, Eden Prairie Police reported 60 thefts had taken place in 2021, versus 55 in all of 2020.
“We’ve heard about these thefts from our members across the state,” said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “It’s not just a metro area crime.” (See EPLN’s ongoing catalytic converter stories)
One of the most recent thefts occurred in the parking lot of Eden Prairie’s local food shelf, People Reaching Out to People (PROP).
“Catalytic converter thefts are driven by price increases of the precious metals inside,” said Captain Bill Wyffels of the Eden Prairie Police. “Because there’s money in it, multiple groups have become involved. It’s difficult for vehicle owner victims. We want to make it right.”
Wyfells noted that the Eden Prairie Police Department (EPPD) crime analysts work with surrounding agencies to detect patterns to support investigations.
Importantly, said Wyfells, citizens have a key role to play.
“If you see someone duck down suspiciously under a car…don’t hesitate to call us.”
–Captain Wyfells of the EPPC
“Federal statistics say 70% of property crimes are drug related,” continued Wyffels.
The thieves are likely the start of a multi-step distribution process that recycles stolen parts back to junkyards and repair shops, or to Internet sites like E-bay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist.
“Repair shops may not even know that replacement converters they buy may have been stolen. Suppliers are reaping most of the profits. We have to make distribution of stolen parts harder.”
Special session provisions
As this edition went to press, the Legislature was voting on the Commerce Omnibus bill, which contained two provisions to deter and disrupt illegal distribution:
- Anyone who purchases or receives a catalytic converter will be required to record any numbers, bar codes, or unique markings and the name of the person who removed it.
- The Commerce Department will design and implement a $400,000 pilot program to place unique ID numbers on catalytic converters.
Law enforcement and sponsors of anti-theft legislation agree that these provisions are a good start. “It’s a small step forward, but it’s not what we’re hoping for,” said Potts.
“The Commerce Department funds prevention programs, but they don’t have the authority to create stiffer penalties, which we belief would help deter these crimes,” according to Potts.
Most catalytic converters do not have serial numbers, making it difficult for law enforcement to prove a catalytic converter is stolen. Having manufacturers etch unique ID numbers at the factory would be ideal, said Potts. Currently that’s a heavy lift for manufacturers, he noted. “So we have to start at the local level.”
“Senator Marty’s bill, which I co-sponsored, would have put the bad guys out of business,” said Senator Steve Cwodzinski. “On the other hand, a lot of people I hear from are concerned about over-regulation of businesses.”
Cwodzinski said the gap may close in early 2022 following policy discussions to include hearing from victims like the PROP shop. “Catalytic converter theft is a big deal … if you get up to go to work in the morning and your vehicle isn’t drivable,” said Potts. He noted it hasn’t made the “hot list of public safety initiatives yet” and redeploying resources from other priorities like violent crime is a challenge.
In the meantime, vehicle owners can help prevent theft by parking in well-lit areas, near building entrances, or close to the nearest access road when parking in a public lot.