As the price of gas goes up, so does the number of people taking off after fueling up. But Brooklyn Park Police say they’re hardly getting any calls for gas drive-offs.
That’s because, in most cases, they don’t pursue them.
“If somebody were to see or witness a crime as it’s occurring, we tell managers and property owners of these properties to call us right away,” says Brooklyn Park Police Inspector Todd Milburn. “If it’s something that has happened days after the fact, we tell them to go through the civil collection process.”
Milburn says gas station owners often won’t realize they’ve been ripped off until hours or days later, when they’re doing bookkeeping. He says without reliable witness information regarding a license plate number or a vehicle or customer description, it’s difficult to track down the thieves. Plus, he says, the department just doesn’t have the resources to follow up on these cases.
“Often times these cases take you well out of the city limits of Brooklyn park; driving around trying to follow up on theft related crimes, really, to no avail, to find out that different people were driving different vehicles and whatnot,” says Milburn. “It was really a time consuming resource problem we had.”
Gas station owners are urged to collect the money they’re owed on their own. State statute says gas thieves have to pay for the gas they stole, plus a service charge and, possibly, a civil penalty, interest and attorney fees.
12 News called area police stations for this story and found all departments we talked to do respond to gas drive-off cases in progress.
In cases where the crime happened hours or days before, Plymouth and Crystal won’t respond if there’s no eyewitness or if the value of the gas stolen is less than a certain amount. Brooklyn Center, like Brooklyn Park, won’t investigate those cases at all.
Several police spokespeople say, not only is it difficult to pursue these cases, but it’s also frustrating because the gas station owners are usually more concerned about getting their money back than pursuing criminal charges against the driver.
A neighboring city wants to avoid hassle for everyone. Starting August first, Coon Rapids will require all gas stations in the city to be prepay only.
Melanie Hill, store manager of the Holiday station on Brooklyn Boulevard in Brooklyn Park, says she applauds Coon Rapids’s move. Her store has required prepayment from its customers for years.
She predicts it’s only a matter of time before other cities follow suit.
Hill says, “If businesses are having such a problem and hundreds and hundreds of dollars are being lost from the businesses in a community, then I think it is time that the city steps in.”
July 25, 2012