Bandits under the pump: Caltex to install numberplate recognition cameras to crackdown on fuel drive-offs

Caltex is installing numberplate recognition cameras at 10 of its WA service stations to fight fuel drive-offs, which cost retailers across the State about $7 million each year.

It comes as Police Commissioner Chris Dawson issued a directive to officers to investigate incidents where drivers fill up and do not pay, reversing the previous agency policy that it was not a crime priority.

Service station operators must immediately report the drive-offs so officers can respond quickly, issue alerts for the vehicle and prevent other offences.

Police say they want to target offenders who are actively committing crimes.

Those who stole fuel were often in a stolen vehicle or wanted over other offences.

Motor Trade Association of WA chief executive Stephen Moir, whose association represents WA service stations, welcomed the tougher stance, describing the position of former top cop Karl O’Callaghan as a “cop-out”.

Mr O’Callaghan had argued fuel theft was difficult to prosecute because police had to prove a motorist intentionally drove off without paying, rather than forgot.

“He argued it was a breach of contract and that he believed a lot of people were driving off inadvertently — but that is just a nonsense, the scale of the problem is too high (for that to be the case),” Mr Moir said. “What he did by saying that was provide people with an excuse to do it.”

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores has also welcomed the change, saying its 2017 State of the Industry Report revealed petrol theft cost the average Australian convenience store more than $162 each week.

Caltex Australia WA retail manager Deborah Ruka said 10 WA sites, among 20 nationally, had been chosen for the cameras because they had recorded a “higher than is usual” instance of drive-offs, although the company did not want to provide numbers.

She said a trial of the video surveillance technology at a Caltex in Belmont last year had proved successful in reducing loss at the site.

“Fuel drive-offs are theft and they weigh heavily on many service station operators,” she said. “The petrol business operates with very low margins when compared with other businesses, so you need to sell a lot of fuel to replace the value of the loss.”

The cameras record a vehicle’s numberplate and if it is flagged on the system — for a previous incident there or elsewhere — staff ask the driver to pre-pay for fuel.

The ScamCam system Caltex is installing is used by other WA fuel retailers and businesses and the alerts are shared among its Australian clients.

Mr Moir said the MTA had asked Mr Dawson to look at pursuing fuel thefts.

He said there had been a “massive spike” in fuel drive-offs after Mr O’Callaghan revealed it was not a police priority.

He hoped the warning that police would target fuel thieves and that service stations would film and report drive-offs would deter rogue drivers.


Extracted from The West 

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