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Gas and Go: Stolen gas epidemic rises in BG

Gas prices aren’t the only thing that’s been on the rise lately.

Theft cases have also reached uncharted territory, according to the Bowling Green Police Division. Over the last three years, the number of thefts in Bowling Green have increased each year going from 829 in 2002, to 905 in 2003 and up to 985 in 2004.

In many ways the higher price for gasoline has had a lot to do with the increase in thefts.

“Most of our thefts are, in fact, drive-offs from gas stations,” Bowling Green Chief of Police Thomas Votava said. “We get a lot of calls from major stores such as Wal-Mart and Meijer which account for a large portion of thefts in the city, but gas theft is number one.”

But along with higher gas prices, there is a more noticeable loss in the pockets of gas stations when their fuel is stolen. Many gas stations in Bowling Green, including the Speedway, located on 1650 East Wooster Street, have run into this problem. Linda Casey, spokesperson for Marathon Ashland, the parent company of Speedway, said more money is taken because it now costs more for a gallon of gas.

“If it’s $1.50 a gallon and you put in 10 gallons and drive off we lose $15,” Casey said. “But if it’s $2.00 a gallon and 10 gallons are taken we lose $20.”

This problem is just as prevalent across the country as it is in Ohio. According to Convenience Store News, Quiktrip, a company based in Tulsa, Okla. has been hit hard with an increase in drive-offs. Last year, its 400 stores lost a combined $12 million in gas theft incidents.

Casey said even if one person leaves the pump without paying, it becomes a problem since it affects the overall price of gas, which is one reason why gas prices continue to increase.

“The people drive off those losses come from the bottom of the company and it’s made up in some way,” Casey said. “There will be an incremental cost and it’s reflected in what our customers pay.”

For example, stealing gas is very similar to shoplifting in a clothing store. But Casey said there is a misconception within our society that views it differently.

“People are shoplifting jeans from the Gap,” she said. “If you have an SUV right now $50 to fill it up is not out of the realm, so it’s about the same amount. But we don’t seem to have as much success with police in prosecuting them.”

While it is difficult to apprehend those who steal gasoline, there are currently steps being made to make the process easier in the near future.

“(Speedway) has outside cameras and many of them are digital,” Casey said. “Soon they will all be digital which allows for computer enhancement so we can very easily determine license plate numbers, car models, even identify the person pumping.”

Another remedy to prevent drive-offs is to initialize prepay for pump purchases. While many gas stations across the country have switched to prepay as the only way to pay for gasoline, Speedway refuses to go that route.

“We don’t like to do prepay because it’s not convenient to our customers,” Casey said. “Customers like the ability to fill up, and go inside if they want to grab a cappuccino or a doughnut and then use their credit card.”

Votava said as technology advances it will be even tougher for people to get away with stealing gas.

“I think many of the gas stations have taken a very tough policy on drive-offs now,” Votava said. “Eventually these people will become aware.”

The law in Ohio states that anyone who steals gas can lose their license for six months. According to City Prosecutor Matt Reger, people who get caught for stealing gas in Bowling Green are also charged with a misdemeanor offense and can spend up to a year in jail along with up to $1,000 in fines.

Votava said by making the public aware of their consequences there is a greater chance that theft will deteriorate in the future.

“Theft is a crime of opportunity and I think we need to do more in the way of education to minimize it,” Votava said. “There are things that the public can be doing in order to deter these thefts that are taking place.”

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