Tammy Reynolds is the town’s road commissioner and also the office manager at Dave’s World on Route 3, a family used car lot with a service garage. The shop, she said, has experienced thefts in the past but staff have never before apprehended anyone “red-handed.”

After cameras recorded someone walking around in the business' back lot and she observed tracks in the snow going from car to car “taking inventory,” Reynolds installed cameras that would alert her if activity were detected. Her cameras paid off when she saw on her cellphone someone committing a crime in the back lot the next night.

She initially became aware of the intruder Feb. 4. He came in from the Liberty Fire Station, which is located on the back side of the property, she said. “We had some cameras up and there was a delay in the transmission, but it showed there was activity in the back lot. That was the first time.”

Even though nothing appeared to have been taken, Reynolds called police after the Feb. 4 incident. They told her there was not much they could do, since the assailant wore a mask. Undeterred, Reynolds put up more cameras.

“I now have 45 cameras spread out over the entire lot. I can see if a mouse runs across the yard,” she said.

And as luck would have it, the intruder came back the next night and brought a toolbox with a portable Sawzall and extra blades. Her phone alerted her of activity at the back car lot and within six minutes, Reynolds, her brother, and her nephew were at the shop.

When they arrived at the lot, she said, they were apprehensive, not knowing how many people were involved. “We split up, knowing he was going to run,” she said. It was snowing and Reynolds described it as being like tracking a deer — following the footprints.

They found the intruder hiding underneath a 40-foot box trailer. He tried to run, but tripped and fell on the snow, and that is when they called the police, she said. The thief was eventually apprehended and charged with burglary and theft.

Other people in the community have had catalytic converters stolen, she said, but “I was not going to be a victim here.”

Reynolds spoke of an older man she knows of in town who is on a fixed income and had his catalytic converter stolen recently. The bill to replace his exhaust, catalytic converter and labor was around $2,000, she said. He had parked too close to the road and now has to decide whether to fix his car or eat.

“That to me is frustrating," she said. "If something is not done pretty soon, people will take the law into their own hands.”

Many times, she said, thieves will wait and watch your schedule. They will know when you go to work or when you go to sleep. In less than three minutes, she said, they can make off with a converter worth hundreds of dollars.

For now, Reynolds suggests that people who do not have a garage park away from the road and back the car into the driveway. Try to make it not so easy for thieves to steal. Security cameras or alarms that go off when someone enters a driveway are also good ideas, she said.

“This thief had a battery operated Sawzall,” she said, “In less than three minutes, he’s gone.”

To address this problem, which is affecting not only Liberty residents, but people across the county and beyond, Reynolds wants to see a change to current statutes involving scrap metal recyclers.

“I want to create a bill that would require people wishing to sell catalytic converters to a scrap yard, besides needing to show identification, they would also need to provide the car’s title in which it was taken from,” she said.

The bill would prohibit the sale, purchase or possession of a used catalytic converter without a title to the vehicle. Metal processing facilities would have to obtain and keep the title of the vehicle from which the converter was removed for a period of five years.

This information would be sent to the state every month and would create accountability. It would also create a paper trail, she said. State Police could conduct checks to make sure every catalytic converter at any given scrap yard had a matching automobile title attached to it.

"It would be the same as when you sell a whole car at a facility," she said, "you have to provide a title to sell the vehicle, and there's no reason that a catalytic converter would be removed and sold unless it was stolen."

The scrap guys know if you come in with four Prius catalytic converters, Reynolds said, you are up to no good.  “Right now,” she said, “the police have their hands tied — and there’s no mechanism to stop it.”

Reynolds came up with the idea from her years of working at the car lot. “The minute you take apart a car, the state requires you to fill out a form with the description and VIN number of the vehicle. This information is required to be turned in to the state every month.

“Why would you have a catalytic converter without a car?” she said, “It seems like a no-brainer.”

Reynolds contacted her state representative, S. Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, who said he would work with her to submit the bill. The bills for this year he said, have already been submitted, and this would be for 2022, unless it was considered an emergency.

A recent New York Times article says stricter car emissions rules around the world have sent the demand for precious metals in catalytic converters soaring.

Palladium quintupled in price from $500 an ounce five years ago to between $2,000 and $2,500 an ounce today, above the price of gold. Rhodium prices have also skyrocketed more than 3,000%, from about $640 an ounce five years ago to a record $21,900 an ounce this year, roughly 12 times the price of gold.

Chief Deputy Jason Trundy of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said that over the past year or more, there has been an increase of this type of theft. “It is driven by the high prices the converters receive when taken to a metal recycling facility,” he said.

These facilities are located all over the state of Maine and are governed by laws specific to the industry, which include requiring a photo ID from the seller.

“This requirement is helpful in some ways, but someone stealing metal, including converters, can simply have a third party recycle the metal to avoid their own name appearing on the slips,” he said.

Lt. Matt Curtis said Sheriff's Office records for 2020 show 13 reported stolen catalytic converters in the county. Curtis noted these numbers are only for incidents where the Sheriff’s Office responded, and that other agencies like Maine State Police or municipal police departments have covered incidents as well.

In the past few months, Detective Merl Reed said, the Sheriff’s Office has responded to 10 reports of catalytic converter theft. “It’s hard to pinpoint who they are unless they leave evidence behind,” he said. Out of the 10 thefts this year, he said, three people have been charged with a crime.

Cameras are a great way to help protect property, Reed said. The recordings are proof that a crime has been committed. He also suggested parking in a well-lit area if possible, and if parking in a garage, make sure to lock it up.

“Times have changed,” Reed said.