Police, business helping residents prevent theft by marking parts with paint

Mackenzie Weniger woke up to her mom yelling something during the early morning hours of Sept. 9.

Still not fully awake, her mother told her she woke up to the sounds of the catalytic converter being cut off of Weniger’s 2009 Toyota Prius and seeing a car fleeing from their Farmington home. Her parents called the police and gave statements. Weniger, 21, had never heard of a catalytic converter before and went back to bed.

Weniger learned how much the theft would actually cost her after she got up a few hours later to go to work.

The Prius was towed to a repair shop, which was covered by insurance. However, Weniger did not have full coverage on the vehicle so that’s all that was covered. The first repair shop gave her a quote of $3,500 to repair the Prius. After calling around, they found a place that fixed it for $1,300, which Weniger paid out of her own pocket. Weniger also switched her insurance plan to full coverage in case her car is targeted in the future.

“The only thing we are hoping is to catch them,” she said. “So we’re setting up things that could help us catch them and get their license plate number, or a face or their car but that’s even hard because their car might be stolen, the license plates might be stolen. They might be wearing a mask ... and they do it so fast.”

She said she was initially angry about the incident but she believes because of her Christian faith the only other thing she can do is “forgive them and move on.”

Weniger’s case is not an isolated incident in the southeast metro.

Farmington Police Det. Sgt. Jim Murphy said the department has seen an uptick of catalytic converter thefts in the last year or two.

“Once the word gets around that it is a quick way to get money if they have substance abuse issues, then the word spreads quickly, and then the cases keep creeping up and up and up,” Murphy said.

This kind of car part theft is on the rise across the county and nation, he said.

Since the metals inside the catalytic converters are considered precious, the criminals can turn in the exhaust parts in the scrap market for quick cash.

“Some cars have higher levels of precious metals and so they hunt them down to get more cash,” Murphy said.

Since there are no markings on the converters, it cannot be traced. The repair can run anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to replace the car part.

The Apple Valley Police Department said in a March social media post that catalytic converters can be scraped for up to $250 each.

During an incident the thieves “will typically pull up next to the target vehicle, jack it up a bit to make it easier to slide under and access the part, then cut the catalytic converter with a power tool. The whole process only takes a few minutes to complete and are occurring day and night.”

Apple Valley Police Capt. Greg Dahlstrom said there were approximately 25 catalytic converter thefts in 2020 and 50 in 2021 as of Sept. 21. The Eagan Police Department reports there were 112 thefts in 2020 and 233 thefts in 2021 with 11 being reported in September as of Sept. 21.

In one week in August, the city of Lakeville Police reported the theft of 30 catalytic converters. Lakeville Police reported the crime has been on the rise in summer in Lakeville.

Some cities like Eagan are taking proactive measures to help residents from being targeted for catalytic converter thefts.

Over the summer, the Eagan Police Department partnered with Superior Collision Center’s Eagan location to offer a theft prevention initiative. The project gave residents a chance to sign up through the Nextdoor social networking service to have the catalytic converters on their cars marked with a high-temperature paint. The department plans to host another prevention event with Superior on Oct. 30.

Superior Collision owner Dan Sjolseth said over 100 cars participated in the first event.

“I think it was very successful. It was a good community event,” he said.

Sjolseth said his Eagan and Apple Valley shops deal with catalytic converter repairs. They have made the most repairs to Toyota and Mitsubishi models. Eagan Police Det. Sgt. Mark Kritzeck said while more thefts have been reported since the prevention event, none of the new cases have involved converters that were marked by Superior Collision.

As far as other prevention tips, Farmington Police suggest residents park cars in a garage if possible.

“We have had off and on people reporting it has been stolen and it is usually in the middle of the night and people wake up and start their cars and it sounds loud and realize there are missing pieces,” Murphy said.

The Apple Valley Police Department recommends parking close to the building where the vehicle can be seen or under a light if people have to park their vehicle outside overnight or leave the car parked unattended for an extended period of time. Residents should watch for suspicious activity around parked vehicles, listen for the sound of grinding metal and immediately call 911 to report the activity.

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@apgecm.com. Kara Hildreth can be reached at kara.hildreth@apgecm.com.

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