Monday, August 27, 2007

Small tweak yields results

Exactly one month ago, we changed the Lincoln police department's response to gas drive-offs: cases where someone has pumped fuel then driven off without paying. For as long as anyone could remember, we had dispatched officers to all these reports, conducted whatever investigation was possible, and completed a police incident report.

On July 27, following a meeting I had arranged with the major gasoline retailers in Lincoln, this changed. Rather than dispatching an officer, we now simply broadcast whatever description exists of the vehicle. If an officer spots something similar, he or she makes their own case. An officer is dispatched only if two conditions are met: the retailer has a license plate number (or it's functional equivalent, in terms of a unique description), and an employee can identify the person who committed the alleged theft.

As of Friday, we had dispatched police officers to 26 gas drive-offs during the month of August. By comparison, we dispatched officers to 125 drive-offs in the same 24 days of August, 2006. My goal was to avoid wasting police resources plowing time into the investigation and reporting of incidents with virtually no likelihood of clearance. This appears to have been achieved.

These thefts are a significant problem for the retailers. But gasoline retailers have an easy solution to the problem of drive-offs: pre-pay. This is common in many areas of the country, but the local retailers worry that unless all of them adopt pre-pay, they will lose a competitive edge. Apparently this is a bigger deal for some customers than it is for me.


Karin Dalziel said...

When I moved to Nebraska from California 9 years ago, I was shocked at the fact that you didn't have to pre-pay for gas (also the fact that many gas pumps then didn't take credit cards at the pump.)

With gas prices as they are, it's something they'll have to implement sooner or later anyway.

Anonymous said...

Credit and debit cards at the pump are a great solution. It allows the customer to do a complete fill-up of undetermined quantity, without having to go in twice, (once to prepay and then having to go back in to get their change).

Pre-pay and "pump pay" also take a lot of pressure off of the clerk too, which isn't a bad thing. It's a dangerous job (as the Chief can verify), so if they don't have to watch for drive-offs, they can spend more time watching for high-risk walk-in types and hit the button sooner if need be.

Credit/debit card pay means less cash on hand (also a good thing, from a robbery-discouragement angle), which can probably pile up in the drawer pretty fast when goofs like me fill up their 30+ gallon tanks.

Anonymous said...

Its hard to change the habits of stubborn Nebraskans. Most have traveled little outside the state and just can't understand why things are aren't as simple as they think things should be. Driving around the block 17 times in the Haymarket to find a free parking stall after meter hours instead of paying $3 for a parking garage is another example of local isolationism--to park in a major city will cost you $15 and meter stalls are always full. Thinking the police should come to your non-inury fender bender and leaving your car blocking a traffic lane while waiting for them is another. UNL students expecting free vehicle unlocks from UNL Police when they locked the keys inside is another. Failing to turn right on a red light when legally and safely able to do so is another. On and on and on. The bottlom line is, Nebraskans need to wake up (about certain things).

Anonymous said...

FYI UNL Police do not unlock cars with keys in it. They were taken advantage of too much so now the kiddies have to call a locksmith.

Rosey said...

One reason retailers resist pre-pay is that it usually occurs at the pump - and when that happens they lose the opportunity to sell people the fountain pop, chips etc. that hold the real profit margins for the store.

Competition in gas pricing being what it is - I wouldn't be surprised that a store makes as much or more real profit on the Super Mega Big Gulp of Coke as they do on a tank of gas.

I know that as a consumer - I'm sometimes reluctant to pump pay because in many stations - the system "grabs" or reserves a charge against my card (sometimes as high as $75) which can take up to 24 hours to release.