PETROL station operators say a change in Victoria Police’s policy in pursuing petrol “drive-offs” is encouraging more of the thefts.
APCO petrol chain director Peter Anderson said some APCO franchisees in Melbourne were being told to pursue those responsible for drive-offs through civil court action rather than contact police.
He said the failure of the police to take action was causing an increase in the thefts.
However, Mr Anderson said the problem was principally a Melbourne one and APCO received good co-operation from police in Warrnambool.
The issue has prompted state opposition police spokesman Wade Noonan to call on Police Minister Kim Wells to meet with the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores to discuss the matter.
Mr Noonan said the change in police policy on petrol drive-offs took place on July 1 last year, when Victoria Police announced it would no longer investigate petrol drive-offs unless there was sufficient information to indicate criminality.
He said attempts by petrol station operators to recover losses through the courts had not been successful, with legal costs outweighing the benefits of pursuing motorists many months after the thefts took place.
“We now have a ridiculous situation whereby a person who steals a Kit Kat and a newspaper from a petrol station is more likely to be investigated for stealing than a person who puts a $100 of fuel in their car and drives off without paying,” Mr Noonan said.
Mr Wells said Victoria Police had been consistently clear in its communications with fuel retailers that it would investigate all incidents where there was evidence of an offence relating to petrol drive-offs.
“We have been advised that Victoria Police continue to consult with petrol industry retailers to review policy about appropriate measures to combat petrol theft,” Mr Wells said.
He said the issue would remain an operational matter for the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police.