ST. CHARLES, Mo. (KTVI) – Police have arrested a suspect they say was caught red-handed in a crime that’s been plaguing the St. Louis area this year: catalytic converter theft.

Thieves have been cutting the metal converters — exhaust emission control devices — right out from under cars, trucks and SUVs. Police said the suspect, a 64-year-old man from St. Peters, Missouri, was caught Sunday with cutting tools and a stolen catalytic converter.

According to police, someone reported hearing a metal-on-metal sawing sound at a salvage yard in St. Charles, Missouri, around 8 p.m. Sunday. There was a brief pursuit before police stopped the suspect in St. Louis County.

“A minivan was leaving the (salvage yard) scene,” said Lt. Thomas Wilkison, of the St. Charles Police Department. “Officers tried to stop that minivan from leaving the property. The vehicle drove around police cars and officers followed.”

Charges were pending against the suspect as investigators looked into whether he could be connected to more thefts, Lt. Wilkison said. The recovered catalytic converter had been cut from a Ford Explorer.

St. Charles police have received reports of about three dozen catalytic converter thefts this year, about three times the number from 2019. About 200 catalytic converter thefts were reported in St. Louis County this year compared with only 33 the previous year.

Investigators suspect thieves may often sell stolen catalytic converters for quick cash to support drug habits. Recyclers buy the converters for the precious metals inside, which includes platinum. It can cost $400 to $600 or more to replace a stolen converter.

Police say keeping your vehicle in a garage, a well-lit area or under a high-quality surveillance camera is the best defense against such theft.