The St. Paul Police Department was recognized Tuesday for an investigation that led to the conviction of several car thieves who sold cars for scrap.

The department received the 2012 Vehicle Theft Award of Merit from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), according to a department news release.

The investigation was launched in 2011 when police noticed a 29 percent increase in stolen vehicles. Police found that the vehicles, including many vans and heavier types, were being stolen and taken to a scrap yard.

The vehicles were being sold without checks on their ownership and were often scrapped before owners had realized their cars were gone.

About 226 stolen vehicles were identified in the investigation, and 16 suspects have pleaded guilty or been convicted, according to the department. Two suspects are awaiting trial.

The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force was second runner-up for the 2012 ICAP Award for Excellence in Criminal Investigations. The task force, which is led by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, was recognized for uncovering a ring of more than 200 suspects in 11 states responsible for identity theft, bank fraud, counterfeit checks and credit card fraud.

The cases, prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office, resulted in more than 30 people being convicted. The ring was responsible for more than $100 million in losses.

ICAP is the largest and oldest organization of police executives. Its membership consists of more than 20,000 members from more than 100 countries.