Caught in act, suspect in catalytic theft freed by San Francisco cops

It seemed like a slam dunk. Witnesses saw a catalytic converter theft in progress and called the cops. They came quick. Case closed? Well, not quite.

It happened at about 3 a.m. Tuesday in San Francisco's Richmond District.

Surveillance video shows a man backing a stolen Honda Accord into a parking space near 24th and Anza. Idling in the street, a jeep with a second suspect behind the wheel.

Soon, the unmistakable loud noises pierce the night, with the two men using the corner as a makeshift chop-shop.

SEE ALSO: Car chase in San Francisco leads to discovery of catalytic converters spilling out of truck

"I woke up to the sound of you know, like, drilling. It was extremely loud," said Morgan Heller, who lives nearby.

She immediately called police. Dispatch confirmed this was a catalytic converter theft in progress, based on the sounds.

The guy in the Jeep took off. 

Officers from Richmond Station arrived at scene within minutes.

But even though Heller and her roommate never lost sight of the suspect, and the officers were talking to him, they wouldn't arrest him.

"I heard them say, ‘You are free to go,’" Heller said.

The suspect even asked the officers where the closest bus stop was.

"I was like, 'Why not do the white-glove treatment and just order him an Uber?" Heller asked."It was embarrassing… The overall assessment is that we have to do better than this."

Officers admitted to the women that their computer systems were down, which  meant they couldn't positively ID he suspect  or find the owner of the Honda. So without enough evidence, they let the suspect go

"To see such inaction, its hard for me to understand what is the threshold for arrest and what is a reasonable expectation for police action," Heller said.

In a statement, San Francisco police said 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."