texas ordinance preventing gas thefts

Measure fines clerks for turning on fuel pumps for cash customers before payment.

A new city ordinance in Rockport, Texas that fines clerks for turning on the fuel before a customer pays has put the brakes on gas thefts. Now other local jurisdictions are looking at creating similar rules, the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times reported.

By the time police showed up to investigate the 242 drive-offs reported in 2006, station clerks often had no description of the culprit or vehicle, said Rockport City Manager Tom Blazek.

By August of this year, when the city council passed the “pay before you pump” ordinance, police had been called out for more than 150 drive-offs. Drivers still can pull up to the pumps and pay with a credit or debit card. The ordinance targets drivers paying cash. With gas at nearly $3 a gallon, turning on the pumps and allowing a customer to fill up before the money is brought inside the building can be a recipe for theft, law enforcement officials said.

“Either the clerk did not see who did it or called too late for police to do anything or the clerk filled up his buddy’s truck,” Blazek told the paper. “We have had a couple of negative comments, but the companies themselves are happier because they are not the bad guys, but they are not losing money in drive-offs.”

After Rockport passed the gas ordinance, drive-offs in neighboring Aransas Pass increased, the report said. Within the past month, following Rockport’s lead, the Aransas Pass City Council unanimously passed a pay before you pump ordinance. Corpus Christi police are pushing for a similar ordinance, and it could happen right after the first of the year.

Prior efforts to do so were derailed by large gas retailers who fear they would lose market share to smaller retailers who might not follow the ordinance. Recent discussions with gas retailers have been more productive because a proposed ordinance would come with a fine ranging from $200 to $500 for retailers who don’t comply.

Last year, 1,521 of the city’s roughly 21,000 crimes, which range from murder to petty theft, were drive-offs. In Rockport last week, five of six clerks at convenience stores were pleased with the ordinance and said it works well to prevent theft.

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