San Francisco

Community Says Police Let Suspected Catalytic Converter Thief to Walk Free

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A San Francisco community is raising questions after they said they called police as they spotted someone trying to steal a catalytic converter, only to watch officers allow the man to walk away.

At around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, Morgan Heller and her roommate said they started hearing noises outside their Richmond District apartment. Heller spoke to NBC Bay Area by phone Friday, she said it sounded like someone was using a drill or a tile cutter.

“When I was sorta of waking up out of my sleep, I thought that "I think that's the sound of a catalytic converter being cut,'” Heller said.

Heller told NBC Bay Area that she called San Francisco police’s non-emergency number after her roommate said she could see a man under a car and using some kind of power tool to cut something.

When police arrived, a man was still there. But despite the women's report and what they claim were obvious signs he was committing a crime, they said that police let the man walk away.

“I asked why an arrest can’t be made and the officer was at first vague and said it was because of the totality of the situation, they would not be able to.” Heller said.

Heller pressed for answers and said that she tried to stay objective.

According to Heller, police told her that no property was technically stolen, they said that the man wasn't holding any sort of tool when they arrived. Police didn't have the car's owner to verify that someone had done something to the car.

Police also said that the state database they would normally use to check a suspect's history and run the license of the car was not working.

San Francisco police told NBC Bay Area Friday that there's more to the story and the bottom line is they didn't have what they needed to make an arrest.

"The officers did process the scene. Were not able to find evidence of a theft that had been it committed. As well as the registered owner, they were not able to contact the registered owner of the vehicle," said San Francisco police spokesperson Robert Rueca.

SFPD said the investigation continues and if evidence is uncovered, they could make an arrest in the future.

Officials said that they understand why residents would feel frustrated, especially as theft numbers continue to climb, but also said that arrests without proof go nowhere.

"But all within the parameters of the law, we can't be arresting people based on a set of facts that would not hold the district attorney with the proper evidence to prosecute the case," Rueca said.

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