With gas prices reaching record highs, Lincolnton Police are reporting a high number of fuel thefts at local convenience stores.
Police respond to about three gas drive-offs each day, said Lt. Kent Lukach, crime prevention and training officer for the department.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t sound like a big deal to some, but when you figure in a large SUV pumping $50 worth of fuel and speeding off, thatâ€™s a pretty heavy hit to an independent service station owner,â€ Lukach said.
The regular-grade gas price in North Carolina rose to an average of $1.67 on Friday, according to figures from AAA Carolinas. Prices at some Lincolnton stores have surpassed that.
That increase has an effect on the number of gas larcenies, Lukach said.
In 2000, gasoline theft cost the convenience store industry $272 million, according to the 2001 National Association of Convenience Stores State of the Industry Report.
The NACS reported a decrease in gas thefts in 2002, crediting consumer awareness and education for the change.
While retailers reported gasoline theft losses approaching $3,000 per store in 1999 and 2000, in 2001 that figure was reduced to $1,032 per store and $919 per store in 2002.
Gas drive-offs hit convenience stores hard financially, and often cause dangerous situations when thieves speed away from the pumps.
Police catch about one-third of the people who commit the thefts, Lukach said.
He has requested that some local convenience stores train employees to combat this crime.
Implementing â€œpay before you pumpâ€ policies, increasing security camera use and greeting customers via store-to-pump intercom systems could decrease the number of drive-offs, he said.
But some stores arenâ€™t willing to switch to â€œpay before you pumpâ€ policies, because it can deter customers from stopping, Lukach said.
There are laws to prosecute gas thieves. As of December 2003, 25 states passed laws in which a judge has the discretion to suspend the driverâ€™s license of someone convicted of gas theft. The law took effect in North Carolina in 2001.by Alice Smith