Petrol stations owners in Co Armagh are being urged to take more responsibility in tackling the growing problem of drivers leaving without paying for their fuel.
Upper Bann UUP MLA Doug Beattie says business owners should look at more pro-active ways in clamping down on this increasing issue which is, more often than not, costing the PSNI more money than the crime itself.
“It is clear that our police force in the Upper Bann are under severe resource pressures,” explained Mr Beattie.
“As well as traditional crime such as burglary, violence, social and sexual offences they have to deal with many more complex crime trends that are increasingly internet based.
“This is stretching their resources and officer availability to the extreme.”
One of the many issues the PSNI have to deal with is petrol station drive-offs.
“These drive-offs are often individuals who have inadvertently forgotten to pay for their fuel, or indeed individual who deliberately decided to drive off in an attempt to avoid paying.
“On many instances the petrol station will call the PSNI and report a crime – which it clearly is – and the issue of finding the individuals who has driven off falls to the police.
“The reality being that on some occasions tracking down an individual who has – deliberately or inadvertently – not paid his £20 for the petrol could cost the PSNI as much as £200 in officer hours and other police resources.”
He added: “Of course the petrol station has a part to play and they do in the main take that seriously. They have signage reminding people to pay for their fuel or to ensure they have the ability to pay for their fuel.
“In some cases, if they can identify the car and the owner and they have the telephone number they can and do ring to explain and in most cases it is just an absent minded individual who was distracted and forgot to pay. Therefore, the issue is solved.
“But if, in the end, it is not resolved it becomes a police matter and it is becoming a real drain on their ever decreasing resources.
“To that end I think it is fair that petrol station owners, the large and the small, look at ways of taking responsibility for their own businesses and reduce this police burden.
“Some already have pre-pay petrol pumps which stops the issue of anyone doing a runner – deliberately or otherwise. The question is then, why can all petrol stations not be either pre-pay or electronic payment machines catering for all ages and all technologies.
“In the end we want our police force to be out meeting the real policing challenges that affect all our communities and that is not to say that theft from a petrol station is not a real challenge.
“Instead it is saying that there is a very easy solution to that particular problem and if we adopt it the PSNI are free to do other tasks.”