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As car break-ins rise, St. Louis County Council looks for enforcement alternatives

Tim Fitch, republican St. Louis County councilman, speaks to the media while holding up legislation he is set to propose Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, during a press conference on the recent uptick in regional automobile-related crimes at the St. Louis County government building in Clayton.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Republican St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch speaks about efforts to combat auto break-ins and catalytic converter thefts at a press conference Tuesday.

Two St. Louis County Council members want to give the county’s municipal court the authority to handle some vehicle break-in and catalytic converter theft cases.

“A lot of what we see these groups doing start off as a misdemeanor,” said Republican Tim Fitch. “We know those kind of charges in the state court won’t be issued because they’re dealing with felonies in the state court. So we have to look at other alternatives.”

Data from St. Louis County Police show catalytic converter thefts have jumped nearly 250% year-to-date in 2021, compared to the first 10 months of 2020. Thefts from motor vehicles were up about 10%, although car theft has dropped this year.

One of Fitch’s bills makes it a ordinance violation for someone to pull the door handles of or test the trunks of multiple cars in an effort to find one that is unlocked. Similar legislation took effect in St. Louis last month.

Another measure, which has yet to be introduced, would make it illegal for someone to ride in a stolen car. The passenger would not have to know the car was stolen, Fitch said.

A third bill would tighten restrictions on scrapyards that want to accept catalytic converters.

“We’re hoping by putting some pressure on the salvage industry, we’ll try to take some of the demand out for these catalytic converters,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Republican Councilman Mark Harder. “If anything, it puts these places on notice.”

The above bills would only apply in unincorporated St. Louis County, but Fitch said he hoped local municipalities would pass their own versions.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.