Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information above provides only a generalized description of gas drive-offs. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Responses tend to work best when based on reliable data about problem behaviors, sites, times of day, physical features, and offender attributes in your setting.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in reducing gas drive-offs and can be useful partners in gathering information about the problem and responding to it.

Gasoline retailers. These retailershave an interest in reducing gasoline drive-offs to maximize their profits. They possess financial data on their profits and losses, and larger companies may have information about security and station design. They may treat this as proprietary information they are reluctant to share; but, in some cases they may be prepared to share the costs of identified solutions.

Elected officials. People with the power to gauge public concern about the problem and enact legislation to address it.

The media. With their contacts within the community, the media can call attention to gasoline drive-offs and their impact on both the community and on police resources. They can also describe what retailers can do to avoid becoming victims.

Private security. These companies, which keep records on electronic devices in use (e.g., security cameras, license-plate readers, credit-card readers, and fuel dispensers equipped with a password-controlled remote) can supply evidence after violations.

Law-abiding customers. Most customershave an interest in avoiding price rises by retailers to cover losses from gasoline drive-offs. They also can offer insights into merchandising practices that would either encourage or discourage them from entering the stores to pay for non-gasoline goods.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your local problem of gas drive-offs, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • How many incidents of gasoline drive-offs are reported in your jurisdiction?
  • Do gas drive-offs occur only at convenience stores or also at service stations?
  • What proportion of reported incidents are actually employee theft?
  • Do you believe gasoline drive-offs are well reported? If not, how many unreported incidents do you think there might be? (You would need to survey gasoline retailers, employees, and law-abiding consumers to get reliable estimates.)
  • Who brings the incidents to police attention? Station clerks? Station managers? Customers?
  • What proportion of incidents is directly observed by police, initiated by technology, reported by employees, or noticed by some combination of these methods?
  • In what proportion of theft investigations are police able to substantiate that a crime was committed? What are the obstacles to doing so?
  • How much gas is usually stolen in an incident?
  • What is the financial impact of gasoline drive-offs on local stations?
  • How concerned is the community about gas drive-offs?

Offenders

  • Are there particular kinds of drivers (e.g., teenagers or adult males) who commit most of the offenses? (If the offenders’ identity is unknown, what is known about the type of vehicles that offenders drive?)
  • What seem to be the main motives for stealing gasoline in your jurisdiction?
  • Do drive-off offenders employ distinctive methods of operation? What efforts, if any, do offenders make to conceal their identity or their vehicle license plate?
  • What proportion of the thieves appears to be repeat or habitual offenders? 

Locations/Times

  • Are gas drive-offs widely distributed in your jurisdiction? Or are they concentrated among a small proportion of stores, which constitute "risky facilities"?
  • What environmental factors at these risky facilities contribute to the incidence of gasoline drive-offs (e.g., the site is in an isolated area or has back lanes or rear entrances that can be used as escape routes)?
  • What other features of the locations contribute to the incidence of gasoline drive offs?
  • On what types of roadways are the stores where most incidents occur (e.g., highways, freeways, or arterial roads)?
  • When do most incidents occur (time of day, day of week, month, special occasions, and seasons)? Why do these times encourage gasoline theft? 

 

    † "Risky facilities" are those few members of a particular group of facilities, in this case either service stations or convenience stores, which account for most of the crimes experienced. Analyzing the reasons for this concentration of crime can yield valuable preventive lessons (see Problem-Solving Tool Guide No. 6, Understanding Risky Facilities, for further information).

Current Responses

  • What are the reporting policies and practices concerning gas drive-offs of the various stations in your jurisdiction? How are those policies set?
  • Do attendants respond efficiently to gasoline drive-offs?
  • Are particular crime-prevention measures associated with lower gasoline drive-off rates (e.g., electronic surveillance, outside attendants, warning signs)?
  • What are the policies and procedures among area police agencies for handling gasoline drive-off reports?
  • How do police usually respond to gas drive-off reports in practice?
  • Do police work effectively with gas retailers to prevent drive-offs?
  • To what extent are police officers able to intervene in gasoline drive-offs?
  • How many citations/arrests do police issue or make for these thefts in your jurisdiction?
  • How do private security companies respond to the security needs of convenience stores/filling stations?
  • What sentences are typically imposed on those convicted of gasoline drive-offs?

 

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine how well your efforts have succeeded and may suggest how to modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is and after you implement your responses to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools Guides No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers,and No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to gas drive-offs. Process measures show the extent to which responses were properly implemented. Outcome measures show the extent to which the responses reduced the level or severity of the problem.

Process Measures

  • More well-secured gasoline pumps and improved surveillance and security at sites
  • Increased calls for service (reflecting more witnesses to theft)
  • Apprehension of more suspects

Outcome Measures

  • Fewer gasoline drive-off reports recorded by convenience store/gas stations and reported to police
  • Fewer gasoline drive-off reports to National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and to insurance companies
  • Reduced average gasoline losses per store and increased profitability of stations from gasoline sales
  • Greater perception of security among those using and staffing the facilities
  • Reduced consumption of police resources spent handling gasoline drive-offs