Driveoffs Tick Off Topeka

Some retailers calling for prepay ordinance

TOPEKA, Kansas -- A recent spike in driveoffs at Topeka, Kansas-area gas stations has prompted new discussions about doing more to prevent the gas-and-go crimes there, reported The Topeka Capital Journal.

Between June 5 and July 9, the number of driveoffs ranged from 16 to 23 per week, police department spokesperson Kristi Pankratz told the newspaper. Earlier, the average had been about 10 a week, she said.

The increase in driveoffs came on the heels of a jump in prices at the pump, said the report. A month ago, a gallon of regular [image-nocss] 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 driveoffs accounted for 9% of Topeka's "Part 1" crimes, drafted a proposed ordinance last year that would have required all gasoline pumps in the city to become prepay. The Topeka City Council voted November 9 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, the report said. "No one would follow us, so we changed to prepay only between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.," Kelly said Monday.

"It's going to have to be passed," Kelly said of a prepay ordinance. "And it's going to take more than one gas station doing it, too. All of the other surrounding states have it."

Tom Palace, executive director of the Kansas Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, said prepay was not 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 told the paper. "However, I do know that some of our members have gone to prepay on their own, and those businesses have seen a dropoff 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, as reported in CSP Daily News, Tulsa, Okla.-based Quik Trip has created a card for its customers that must be used to authorize the pump.

"They're setting the bar at a level that's great for them," Palace said of Quik Trip's new technology. He also suggested stronger prosecution of fuel thieves 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."