Amanda and her husband have lived in Eden Prairie for 60 years. Since mid-December, they and a neighbor each have been victims of catalytic converter thefts in broad daylight.
Amanda’s truck hasn’t been repaired, but it’s only used sparingly, so she and her husband will wait until spring to deal with it, she said.
The truck clearly isn’t what she’s most concerned about.
“We have never felt this uncomfortable or insecure,” she said. “We feel violated.”
The brazenness of the daytime thefts – apparently by the same person – has angered Amanda’s husband and shaken her (not her real name) and her neighborhood, home to several children whose parents are concerned for their safety.
Amanda and her husband have motion sensor lights installed, “but this all happened during the day,” she said. And she now carries a stun ring with her when she goes outside.
Other than that, she said, she’s not sure what more they can do to protect themselves or their neighbors in their cul-de-sac neighborhood near Forest Hills Elementary School.
“You would think that being at home would deter this,” she said. “It did not.”
Part 1 of a 2-part series
“They’re a sealed can with precious metals inside,” is how a local scrap metal business owner described catalytic converters.
As simple as that may sound, those sealed cans have created a lucrative market for thieves and a time-wasting, expensive, and sometimes frightening problem for vehicle owners.
While efforts such as painting them, etching identification information on them, and emphasizing preventive measures continue with questionable effectiveness, experts in law enforcement, scrap yard owners, and legislators say the only way to stop the theft of catalytic converters is to make them harder to sell.
No viable solution is close to reality, they agree.
Meanwhile, catalytic converter thefts in Eden Prairie increased 150% over the previous year from 60 to 153.
What are they?
Air pollution became a significant problem in the 1960s, which led the U.S. Congress to pass the Clean Air Act in 1970, setting national air quality standards.
One of the standards’ goals was to reduce harmful emissions by automobiles, specifically a 90 percent reduction in automobile emissions from pre-1968 levels by the 1975 model year.
Engineers developed the catalytic converter, a device mounted under cars between the engine and the muffler designed to reduce vehicle exhaust pollutants.
As the car’s exhaust passes through the converter, the metals heat up and act as catalysts, turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, unburned hydrocarbons to H20 and C02, and nitrous oxides into nitrogen and carbon dioxide, according to Scientific America.
But it’s not what a catalytic converter does, rather what’s inside of them, that explains the ever-increasing rate of thefts.
A ceramic honeycomb in the converter is coated with some of the most valuable precious metals on Earth: platinum, palladium, and rhodium.
Rhodium was selling for $12,100 an ounce on Jan. 13, according to moneymetals.com. Palladium was selling for $1,902 an ounce and platinum for $980 an ounce.
Even a small amount of those metals encased in a metal can result in relatively effortless thefts that reap quick rewards for thieves.
Minnesota has ranked in the top five states nationwide for catalytic converter thefts in recent years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Average monthly thefts have increased steadily since 2018, the bureau says.
Repairs can cost from $1,000 to $3,000, and often parts are difficult to get, resulting in owners being without their cars for extended periods.
“This isn’t just an Eden Prairie problem,” Eden Prairie Police Lt. Jess Irmiter said. “It’s a Hennepin County problem, a Minnesota problem and a United States problem.”
While Eden Prairie doesn’t track which vehicles are most susceptible, Irmiter said, several sources report that the Toyota Prius was among the most popular targets, followed closely by pickup trucks and SUVs, which sit higher off the ground making it easier for thieves to access the converter.
Thefts occur in neighborhoods, Irmiter said, but are more common in commercial areas where business fleet vehicles are stored. Thefts in shopping center parking lots are rare, he said, because they are typically lit well, and there are more people are around.
Car dealerships don’t have as much of a problem because of lighting, security company patrols, cameras, and overnight employees, he said.
Eden Prairie Police do target specific areas while patrolling the city, Irmiter said.
“But this is a crime of opportunity,” he said. “And you can’t tell me where that opportunity will occur.”
Complicating the issue is that police are limited in what they can do unless they see the crime being committed or if there is video evidence. It is not a crime to simply be in possession of a catalytic converter, he said.
Irmiter said that investigators are working on data analysis that might reveal trends in theft locations and times. But the thefts tend to be random, making them difficult to predict, he said.
The City of Eden Prairie is not considering ordinances such as one recently passed by St. Paul that would make it a misdemeanor to be in possession of a catalytic converter without proof of ownership.
Police are “highly supportive” of proposed state-level legislation that would make scrap metal dealers more accountable for establishing catalytic converter ownership, Irmiter said.
“We feel that would greatly reduce these kinds of thefts,” Irmiter said.
It would appear that thieves have to go elsewhere to sell their wares. Irmiter knew of no Eden Prairie businesses or scrap yards that purchase catalytic converters from individuals.
Tuesday in Part 2: What does a catalytic converter sales transaction look like and do any of the current laws regulating scrap dealers put a dent in thefts? Finally, what are lawmakers doing to help solve the problem?
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