It's become a relatively quick and lucrative Twin Cities crime in recent years: Thieves are stealing catalytic converters from vehicles in record numbers. And victims must often pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to replace them.

As of earlier this week, St. Paul police say there have been 560 catalytic converter thefts reported in St. Paul this year — an average of almost six a day. Thefts are up 194% this year in St. Paul and were up 456% last year in Minneapolis.

To make it harder to sell the converters, the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) is holding a free drive-through clinic to mark the emission-control devices. The event will be held Saturday in the north lot of Allianz Field at 400 Snelling Av. SPPD staff will mark converters with spray paint to deter thieves. They'll also install theft-prevention screws on license plates, which are being taken by thieves driving stolen vehicles.

Because of high demand, the department is no longer accepting registrations for Saturday but is still encouraging people to register so that they can be notified of future events.

SPPD deserves praise for providing an excellent community service. Efforts like these can deter crime and strengthen police-community relations.

In 2020, the St. Paul City Council approved an ordinance making it illegal for a person or business — other than a legitimate auto repair operation — to buy or sell a detached catalytic converter.

During the current legislative session, several bills that merit support would extend that notion statewide. Pending measures from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers would rightly address buying, selling or possessing stolen converters.

A bill introduced by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, would make it illegal for scrap dealers to pay cash for catalytic converters and prohibit anyone other than a licensed scrap metal dealer from buying used converters.

In addition, scrap dealers would only be able to buy catalytic converters from an auto repair or auto recycling business, or from individuals who can prove the devices were removed from their vehicles. And it would be illegal for individuals to possess used converters that aren't attached to a car unless they can prove legitimate removal and ownership.

Marty told an editorial writer that he's working on revisions to the bill and plans to include language to encourage marking converters with vehicle identification numbers.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, who says she has been a victim of a converter theft, has also authored a measure that would make it a crime to possess a catalytic converter without proof of ownership.

According the local and national law enforcement, converter thefts have increased because the devices contain rare metals such as palladium and rhodium. Thieves can get $200 to $300 from scrap buyers, while their victims are left to pay replacement costs that can range up to $3,000.

And police say that it's hard to prosecute the crimes. Even if officers stop someone with multiple used converters in their vehicles, they can't prove that they are stolen.

That's why the SPPD clinic is a smart and helpful service to motorists, and why legislation that would make it more difficult to buy, sell and possess stolen converters should be approved.