SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – It’s a crime all too familiar in the Bay Area — catalytic converter thefts. Two San Francisco women say they caught a thief in the act and called police, who they say let the man go. 

It was around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday when home surveillance video captured a Honda Accord parking in the area near 24th Street and Anza Street in San Francisco’s Richmond District. A Jeep could be seen nearby.

KRON4 spoke to a witness, Morgan Heller. “I woke up to the sound of what I thought was kind of like drilling. It sounded like a tile cutter. I thought it might be a catalytic converter being cut,” she said.

She says that is exactly what it was. Heller and her roommate called 911 and police arrived quickly. Heller says officers even pulled a man from under the car and detained him but ultimately let him go.

Heller says officers told her they did not have enough evidence to make an arrest. The owner of the car was not there and while the man carried a car jack, he had not yet taken the converter. Police admitted they were dealing with a city-wide outage that prevented them from verifying the man’s ID.

Heller told KRON4, “They confirmed that the system was down for the city for at least two hours. I asked how frequent that happened and he said occasionally, sometimes planned, sometimes not. When I talk about my reaction it was really just trying to understand the reasons for no arrest and trying to understand this outage which I thought sounded really alarming.”

San Francisco police responded to the incident in a statement that reads in part: “Our job is not just to enforce the law, but to ensure everyone is protected by the law. Releasing a possible suspect does not mean the investigation is over. In fact, it means the investigation is just beginning.”

KRON On is streaming news live now

Police say the car involved was a stolen vehicle. It was later returned to its owner.

As for the man in question, Heller says he walked away with his car jack in hand, “It felt like a very stark difference between what we saw last winter in the smash-and-grabs in Union Square and the police response to that type of property crime, property that doesn’t belong to people but belongs to corporations versus this property crime.”