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St. Paul strengthens ordinance against catalytic converter thefts, calls upon state to do the same

The St. Paul City Council approved an ordinance amendment that makes it a misdemeanor to transport a converter without proof of ownership.

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Internationally, closed mines and refineries during the pandemic have contributed to major supply-chain shortages, increasing demand for rhodium, palladium and other precious metals found in the converters, which are designed to reduce vehicle exhaust emissions.
Star Tribune / FNS file photo
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ST. PAUL -- Eager to make a dent in thefts of catalytic converters and calling upon state lawmakers to follow their lead, the St. Paul City Council approved an ordinance amendment on Wednesday, Jan. 19, that makes it a misdemeanor to transport a converter without proof of ownership.

“I wholeheartedly support this,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert. “I’ve talked to so many constituents who have not just had their catalytic converter stolen, but had it stolen multiple times. This highlights the need for the state to take action. … This is not just a St. Paul problem. This is a problem that the entire metro area is facing right now.”

St. Paul police said that without such a law on the books, they’ve been at a loss to charge suspects with thievery, even when they stop a driver in possession of multiple converters and sawing equipment. That’s because it’s difficult to trace the materials to a specific victim, and the suspects can simply declare they’re transporting goods for a friend or family member.

The thefts have skyrocketed as supply-chain shortages increase demand for the precious metals in the converters, which help reduce vehicle emissions.

Last year, St. Paul police catalogued 1,855 thefts of catalytic converters through mid-December, or more than five thefts per day. That’s a total loss of roughly $3 million, and up fivefold from the 345 reported thefts in 2019.

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The council voted 6-0 to approve the new ordinance, which expands upon a May 2020 ordinance that makes sales or purchases of detached catalytic converters by unlicensed dealers a misdemeanor level offense. Auto repair garages are exempt. Council Member Dai Thao was absent Wednesday.

“There’s no reason for anyone to ever be in possession of a detached catalytic converter, specifically one that has been sawed off with a Sawzall,” Council President Amy Brendmoen said. “Parks and city facilities have been hit, as have car dealerships. We need help from the state to look at this on a more global level and help us stop the market demand.”

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