Fitch and Harder introduce legislation to crack down on catalytic converter thefts

Council will hold Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss bills

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Seventh District Councilman Mark Harder and 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch at a May 2019 meeting.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Two St. Louis County Council members have proposed legislation to curb thefts from vehicles in residential areas. 

At County Council meetings in November, 3rd District County Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton, and 7th District County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, introduced multiple pieces of legislation intended to deter criminals from tampering with vehicles in residential areas, or thefts from vehicles. 

At the Nov. 9 council meeting, Fitch and Harder introduced an ordinance targeting “vehicle prowling,” making it a crime to “test or pull any doors of successive vehicles … that the person does not own or lease, without each owner’s or lessee’s permission.” 

At the council meeting the following week, Fitch and Harder introduced legislation that would charge individuals caught riding in stolen vehicles with “vehicle tampering”, as well as legislation that would require people selling catalytic converter and scrap metals to salvage yards to present a photo ID. Salvage yards would also be required to maintain a list of who they purchase scrap from. 

“After 30 years of law enforcement … I’ve never seen a series of car break-ins (like this),” Fitch, the former county police chief, said at a press conference Nov. 16 ahead of introducing the vehicle tampering bill and catalytic converter/salvage yard bill. “We often hear about violent crime in the St. Louis region. This is crime that can certainly lead to violent crime and we need to stop it before it gets too far.” 

The council plans to hold a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss all three related bills but have not determined a date. 

“We are seeking to dry up the demand for salvage catalytic converters by making the sale of stolen parts more difficult,” Harder said at the Nov. 16 conference. “We’re hoping that by putting some pressure on the salvage industry we’ll try to take some of the demand out for these catalytic converters.” 

According to Harder, over 529 catalytic converters had been stolen in unincorporated St. Louis County from January to October. 

“We’ve all made efforts to resolve these crimes and come to some type of curtail with what’s going,” Acting Police Chief Kenneth Gregory said Nov. 16. “I know for the St. Louis County Police Department, we’re redirecting our patrols, we’ve varying different locations. We’re increasing manpower when necessary and we’re also patrolling with a lot of unmarked cars, again.” 

While vehicle thefts overall have declined, thefts from motor vehicles have increased 10 percent this year. Catalytic converter thefts have increased over 289 percent from this time last year, according to the county police department.

Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said that it was important to work collaboratively across the region to address vehicle tampering crimes. 

“Those who commit these types of crimes are not adhering to borders and jurisdictions and so it’s imperative that we all work together,” Bell said. 

Crimes involving vehicles have been a focus lately in St. Louis County and particularly in South County, which is majority unincorporated. Fitch and Harder’s bills, if passed, would only be applicable to unincorporated St. Louis County. 

At a crime prevention town hall in October, hosted by state Rep. Jim Murphy and Rep. Michael O’Donnell, both R-Oakville, Gregory said that car thieves look for low-hanging fruit like unlocked cars or easy-to-see valuables, and especially guns.