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TOPEKA, Kan. -- A recent spike in drive-offs at local gas stations has prompted new discussions about doing more to prevent the gas-and-go crimes, according to The (Topeka) Capital-Journal.
Between June 5 and July 9, the number of drive-offs ranged from 16 to 23 per week, said police department spokeswoman Kristi Pankratz. Earlier, the average had been about 10 a week, she said.
The increase in drive-offs came on the heels of a jump in prices at the pump. A month ago, a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline cost an average of $2.091. That same gallon cost an average $2.285 as of Monday.
Topeka Police Chief Ed Klumpp, noting that drive-offs accounted for 9 percent of Topeka's "Part 1" crimes, drafted a proposed ordinance that would have required all gasoline pumps in the city to become prepay. The Topeka City Council voted last November to reject the ordinance.
"It should have passed," Bobbi Kelly, manager of Kelly Express, told the paper. Kelly Express switched to prepay pumps in August 2004, but after lagging business, switched back two months later.
"No one would follow us, so we changed to prepay only between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.," Kelly said.
"It's going to have to be passed," Kelly added. "And it's going to take more than one gas station doing it, too. All of the other surrounding states have it."
Across town at Tryon Automotive, attendant Wesley Zimmerman said the store used other methods to prevent drive-offs.
"We go out and interact with the customers," Zimmerman said. "We'll say hello and just make them aware we're watching them."
Zimmerman said his coworkers had prevented two drive-offs in the past few weeks just by observing and then chasing down the drivers.
Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said prepay wasn't a desirable choice for most retailers or their customers.
"My board of directors has discussed it at length. They have indicated that that's not the road to take," Palace said. "However, I do know that some of our members have gone to prepay on their own, and those businesses have seen a drop-off in business."
Palace said the association believes there are a number of other things that could be done to curtail gas-and-go drivers. For example, QuikTrip, of Tulsa, Okla., has created a new ID card for its customers that must be used to authorize the pump. Each card contains information about the driver that can be used to track them if they drive off.
"They're setting the bar at a level that's great for them," Palace said of QuikTrip's new technology.
Palace also suggested stronger prosecution of gas thieves who are caught would be a good deterrent.
"The police department has been very active, but we're not seeing much prosecution," Palace said. "It's very expensive for these businesses, and they usually can't get any restitution."