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New Moorhead law aimed at helping stop catalytic converter thefts

Possession of a used converter could result in a misdemeanor charge.

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

MOORHEAD — A new city ordinance allowing Moorhead police to issue a misdemeanor violation for people possessing one or more used catalytic converters which isn't attached to their vehicle has passed its first test with an unanimous vote of the Moorhead City Council.

Police Chief Shannon Monroe told the council on Monday night, April 11, that it’s one more step they can take to try to prevent thefts from vehicles that can be costly to owners, with the cost of replacement ranging from hundreds of dollars to as high as $3,000.

Monroe said thieves sell them to scrap metal dealers and are receiving from $50 to $250 for a converter because of the precious metals found inside.

Graphic: Converter

He said the thefts in Moorhead increased from two in 2020 to 31 last year. There have been five so far this year.

Monroe said the new city law will allow them to charge a thief as he said they have had officers stop vehicles and see several converters in the back seat of the car.

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Additionally, the chief said officers have seen several of the converters when executing search warrants in apartments or garages.

Police have also seen "trailer loads of them going down the interstate to places such as Chicago where they are being purchased," he said.

The new law states that if a person has a legal receipt that their converter was just repaired, the investigation can end.

A recent State Farm Insurance report states that Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation for stolen auto parts, and theft claims have increased 1,171% in two years.

The crime targets mostly victims who park their vehicles in open, often dark places such as alleys or commercial lots where businesses may have a fleet of vehicles.

The converters don't have a serial number on them, such as a vehicle identification number found on vehicles.

Thus, they are hard to track, Monroe said.

To tackle that problem, he said they were working with some city auto shops and marking them with a paint that could withstand the 1,200-degree temperature of the converter to make them easier to track.

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There's also a pilot program established by the state Legislature last year that operates through the Minnesota Department of Commerce where a numbered label is put on the converter and when it heats up, it etches the number into the converter.

Monroe said they hope to have oil changing businesses or other vehicle repair operators to participate in that effort.

Once the label is etched in a code can then be registered with the state to make tracking easier and is another way to catch thieves.

Councilwoman Shelly Dahlquist asked if scrap dealers couldn't also be a part of the solution. Monroe said he knows of just one in Moorhead, but noted how they were being sold at other locations.

Councilwoman Deb White said the thefts can be "extremely detrimental" to college students and they can lose their transportation as sometimes the repair is greater than the value of their vehicle.

Monroe, in response to Councilwoman Laura Caroon, said there was no federal law requiring marking of the converters, although a few manufacturers are starting to stamp converters on some models.

Councilwoman Heather Nesemeier said she was "very excited" about the ordinance as she was a victim of such a theft.

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