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Amid wave of catalytic converter thefts, police look to paint as deterrent

Service pitched by West Fargo business may catch on with other shops

catalytic.jpg
A catalytic converter at 7th Avenue Auto Salvage in Fargo. WDAY photo

WEST FARGO — During the first week of April, thieves stole about 90 catalytic converters from vehicles in West Fargo.

Between Nov. 1 and March 31, Fargo police received reports of about 130 catalytic converter thefts, and across the Red River in Moorhead, police have seen dozens of similar crimes in recent months.

The local crimes follow a wave of similar thefts across the region and the nation as prices for precious metals, which catalytic converters utilize to help control emissions, have soared.

While no one has come up with a fool-proof means of preventing such thefts, at least one local business is taking a crack at it.

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fargo catalytic converter thefts
Catalytic converter theft numbers provided by the Fargo Police Department.

Dave's West Fargo Tire and Service recently announced it was accepting appointments for the morning of Saturday, April 24, and the afternoon of Sunday, April 25, to spray paint heat-resistant paint on catalytic converters.

Openings quickly filled up for the free service, which aims to deter thieves from taking converters from beneath vehicles and selling them for the precious metals they contain, as some scrap yards and recycling businesses will not buy converters marked or painted because it may indicate the converter was stolen.

Ryan Sellheim, owner of Dave's West Fargo Tire and Service, said the idea for the painting project was brought to him by West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness and local radio show host Jay Thomas.

Otterness said in a written statement that the St. Paul Police Department launched a similar converter painting effort and he said it was exciting to bring the approach to West Fargo.

"We hope the metro will join us to stop thieves from stealing catalytic converters," Otterness said.

Sellheim said after word began to spread about the painting project at his shop, other area businesses in the Fargo-Moorhead area expressed an interest in doing something similar. Because of that expanding interest, Sellheim said there are no plans right now to hold additional converter painting sessions at his shop.

Moorhead police Capt. Deric Swenson said Moorhead police are working on a way to partner with businesses to offer painting of catalytic converters when cars are brought in for oil changes and other types of work.

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Swenson said details are still being worked out, but he added the police department has already secured paint to use in the project.

According to Swenson, thieves will go under the vehicle and either remove the converter by taking the bolts off or using a saw to cut the pipe on the front and back and remove it within minutes.

Fargo police provided a number of tips that may help prevent catalytic converter theft:

  • When possible, park in well-lit areas close to building entrances.
  • Keep vehicles in a garage and keep the garage door shut.
  • Have the catalytic converter welded to the vehicle's frame, which may make it harder to steal.
  • Consider engraving the vehicle's identification number on the converter; it may alert a scrap dealer that it was stolen.
  • Set a vehicle's alarm to go off if it detects vibration.

The Fargo Police Department has announced it was partnering with OK Tire in an attempt to make catalytic converters less desirable by marking them with heat-resistant paint and engraving a partial vehicle identification number.
Fargo police said community members will be able to stop by OK Tire at 2224 Main Avenue, Monday through Friday, from 8 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m.

The service will be offered for free until further notice and an appointment is not required.

In addition, Fargo police said investigators have spoken with several local scrap and metal dealers regarding this method of crime prevention so they will be aware of the markings when anyone comes to their facility with a catalytic converter.

Fargo police suggest that community members add their vehicle information, including a complete VIN into the city’s free My Property registration program. The information can be useful to officers and detectives in the event that property is stolen, according to police.

Jim Bernath, owner of Bernath Recycling, a scrap metal recycling company in north Fargo, said he understands the push to discourage thefts, but he's not sure painting catalytic converters is the route to go.

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"It definitely needs to be (stopped), but what the answer is I don't know," Bernath said.

"I can't see that paint is the answer for that," Bernath added, noting that catalytic converters that are stolen locally are probably being sold somewhere far away.

RELATED: Lawmakers seek to curb sale of stolen catalytic converters

Minnesota lawmakers have been mulling possible measures to combat catalytic converter theft, but the efforts have made little progress, as disagreement persists among lawmakers over how best to tackle the problem.

A bill introduced in the state Senate would make it illegal for anyone other than a licensed scrap dealer to purchase a used catalytic converter, in addition to imposing new documentation requirements.

The legislation would also preclude scrap dealers from paying for used converters with cash, requiring instead that they demand checks or electronic payment.

Sellheim said it's unlikely catalytic converter thefts can be prevented entirely, but he's hopeful the local painting effort will convince thieves to look elsewhere for targets.

"You're never going to stop crime, but if you can at least slow it down to the point where it doesn't have such a large impact on a community, you were successful in what you did," he said.

fargo catalytic converter thefts
Catalytic converter theft numbers provided by the Fargo Police Department.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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