St. Paul police fight catalytic converter thefts with spray paint 

Orange spray paint on a car part.
St. Paul police say paint markings like these under vehicles may help deter thieves targeting catalytic converters and the precious metals they contain.
Courtesy of the St. Paul Police Department

St. Paul police are taking a new approach to fighting catalytic converter thefts: They're offering to paint the devices underneath cars and SUVs to deter thieves. 

"We’ve seen catalytic converters thefts skyrocket in St. Paul,” said Sgt. Natalie Davis, a spokesperson for the St. Paul Police Department. “Last year for 2020 there [were] 1,102 catalytic converters thefts, and this year already we’re at 560 thefts." 

Davis said it takes mere minutes to cut a converter out of a vehicle exhaust system using a battery-powered saw. 

Converters contain precious metals such as rhodium and platinum — more valuable than gold. Thieves sell them to scrap markets, where they can fetch as little as $25, or hundreds each for the most valuable versions. 

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Police say many scrap dealers won't buy converters that have been marked with paint or have other indications they might be stolen. So, police are offering to mark cars at the Allianz Field parking lot on Saturday, in hopes thieves won't saw out the catalytic converters for resale. 

“We're gonna spray paint with bright-colored paint, ‘SPPD’ on the catalytic converter, and mark that catalytic converter because what we found out is that many scrapyards won't purchase a catalytic converter that's been marked,” Davis said. Participants will also get complementary installation of theft-resistant license plate screws. 

Davis said Toyota Prius models and Mitsubishi SUVs are favorite targets for their scrap value.

The new initiative starts Saturday, but the Police Department said all its first appointments are full. The department is asking people to register to be notified for future events.