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St. Louis area police give tips to prevent car break-ins, catalytic converter thefts

"This is probably the worst year we’ve had for cars broken into. In one night, about 60 vehicles were broken into," the interim St. Louis County police chief said

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Local police departments are trying to prevent you from becoming a victim, after seeing a sharp increase in car thefts and break-ins.

It's a surge that's impacting the entire region.

In a news briefing Tuesday morning, the St. Louis County Police Department teamed up with multiple agencies to raise awareness and show unity in addressing the recent upsurge.  

Agencies from several areas were in attendance from:

  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
  • St. Charles County Police Department
  • Ellisville Police Department, Florissant Police Department
  • Hazelwood Police Department
  • Moline Acres Police Department
  • Manchester Police Department

Plus, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar were also there, along with State Representative Jim Murphy, representing parts of St. Louis County. 

Credit: KSDK

"It’s not a local issue, it’s a state issue," Murphy said. "It happens everywhere."

"This is probably the worst year we’ve had for cars broken into," St. Louis County Police Chief Kenneth Gregory said. "In one night, about 60 vehicles were broken into."

In the last year in St. Louis County:

  • There's been an increase of over 289% in catalytic converter thefts
  • Almost 10% increase in car break-ins
  • 117 cars stolen in the month of October

County councilman Tim Fitch said his constituents send him multiple videos of the constant action happening in their neighborhoods. 

"More than 30 years in law enforcement, I’ve never seen a series of car break-ins," Fitch said. "When you watch these videos, what’s disturbing is that they have roles. They open the doors, one person will act cover and sometimes armed and the other hitting both sides of the street on the street or driveways."

Credit: KSDK

At the St. Louis Auto and Truck Repair crew is hard at work Tuesday afternoon, fixing the costly damage left behind by thieves keeps them busy.

Owner Pat Hamill said catalytic converters are getting snatched more than ever.

"It's a lot worse than it ever was. Today, we have three here," Hamill said as they fix the cars. 

One was so mauled, it's almost the cost of the car itself.

"They stole the truck and had to time to steal the exhaust, the amount of stuff they cut off is north of $30,000, so it essentially totals out the truck," Hamill said.

A catalytic converter converts the hydrocarbons from the engine and creates a cleaner exhaust out of the tailpipe. Without it, your exhaust is much dirtier.

The precious metals in this car part can sell for up to a thousand dollars. To get it replaced, it could also cost up to $3,000 for a dealer price.

It was still money coming out of her pocket, even with insurance, for St. Louis resident Alexandra Council. 

She got her converter stolen in the city recently.

"I turned my car on and it sounded super loud and smelled like straight gas. I checked under the car and saw the seal, a small circular thing, on the ground. Insurance did cover most of it, up to my deductible, then I paid the rest," she tells 5 On Your Side.

To keep from becoming a victim of catalytic converter theft, Hamill advises:

  • Put it in a garage
  • Light up your yard, light up where your car is parked
  • Be aware that trucks are a big target since people can go underneath them easily
  • The weather makes a difference - if it's cold, there won't be as many stolen
  • They can steal it quickly, so if you can, put an alarm to go off when the car shakes
  • There are auto theft devices you can place to try and protect the converters

To curb car thefts and break-ins from happening to more victims, Chief Gregory gave some advice:

  • Take your garage door opener out of your car when you park at your residence
  • Don't leave your keys in unlocked car
  • Take out any items
  • Remove firearms

"We've had a number of stolen vehicles and firearms are used in crimes after they were stolen," Chief Gregory said. 

"They don’t want to work in the cold either," Hamill said.

Councilman Mark Harder encourages car dealers to keep properties lit overnight and block the driveway, so other cars can’t enter. 

Legislation to prevent thefts

On Tuesday night, Harder and Fitch presented two new ordinances to stop these crimes.

Fitch's focuses on vehicle prowling and tampering.

"This ordinance if passed will allow an officer to make the arrest for vehicle prowling," he said.

Another bill would add violations for riding in a stolen vehicle.

He introduced his bills at the St. Louis County Council Meeting Tuesday night and said he does not expect any opposition. He said he expects the bills to become law next month.

Harder's ordinances hone in on catalytic converters and making them harder to sell.

"They will have to have strong identification, driver’s license, license plate numbers. We’re hoping to put some pressure on the salvage industry, we can take away the demand of these car parts," Harder said. 

Councilwoman Rita Heard Days said she supports the councilmen's legislation.

"We have to get this under control," she said.

Fitch says if it's given the green light through a vote, it should be passed in about three weeks.

Representative Murphy plans to file similar legislation in the house, too, yet plans to make it a bit stronger. 

"This is not property theft, this is stealing people’s confidence in their home and confidence for police to protect them," he said.

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