Friday, March 9, 2012

Hard times plus rising gas prices equals gas thefts

Today's good employment news that unemployment is the lowest it's been since it was time to party like it's 1929 in September 2008, which means it's down nearly two percent from a year ago and more than five percent from its peak back in 2009, still isn't enough to hide one important fact; Michigan's unemployment rate is nine percent. That means that conditions are improving, but times are still tough for a lot of people. Adding to the difficulties of both the employed and unemployed is that gas prices are up 25 cents this week for a statewide average of $3.93/gallon, $3.89 in metro Detroit.

We've seen this movie before, first in 2008 and again in 2011. Both times gasoline theft increased. Since it happened then, it should be no surprise that it's happening now. This time, gas thieves in Detroit are adding a new twist to the plot.

In 2008, the method of choice was driving off without paying. WALB, TV 10 in Albany, Georgia, has a spectacular example from March 2008 posted on their YouTube channel.

A thief tried to run off with less than $30 worth of gas, but wound up causing well over $10,000 in damage after a wild high-speed chase.
The result of that escapade was that the station starting insisting on pre-paying for gas.
The very morning after the driveoff managers posted these signs letting customers know thing would have to change. "We don't have any options right now except to prepay. We're trying to figure out the best thing," said Harrison. Deputies agree the prepay policy, along with good surveillence equipment, is probably a store's best bet to prevent drive-offs.
Drive-offs were a problem in 2011 as well, as USA Today reported last April.
As gas prices approach record highs, gas-related thievery is on the rise.

Regular gasoline averages $3.88 a gallon, up $1.02 from a year ago and likely to climb higher.
As I wrote, we've seen this movie before.
Increasingly, consumers are pumping gas and driving off without paying, stealing from other motorists and ripping off large quantities from municipalities and businesses.
In addition to the drive-offs, the reporter listed several instances from all over the country of bulk thefts from tanker trucks and underground tanks* as well as gas being siphoned from private vehicles' fuel tanks, which led to the article's conclusion.
Sales of locking gas caps are surging. Stant Manufacturing, a Connersville, Ind., supplier for Pep Boys and Wal-Mart, expects sales to eclipse 2008 sales, when gas prices hit all-time highs. "We've been ramping up since January," says marketing chief Chris Hoffman. "You could call it our hedge fund."
Just as happened the last two times high and rising gas prices coincided with hard times, both drive offs and thefts from other drivers. This time, even locking gas caps are insufficient to protect the fuel in your tank, as gas thieves in Detroit have found a "where the weak are killed and eaten" method of circumventing them--puncturing and draining people's tanks. WXYZ has the story.

Gas Tank Thefts

An earlier clip presented more complete interviews of the victims shown briefly above.

Thieves are puncturing gas tanks to drain them and steal the gas.

I used to teach in the neighborhood where the thefts reported above happened. I now teach only a few miles away.

In addition to the loss of the gas, there are the dangers of the damaged gas tank and leaking gas as well, as this most recent segment shows.

Officials are warning people who have had their gas tanks drilled not to drive until the tanks are replaced.
More on this story at WXYZ's website here and here.

I've written before that the solutions for our problems devised here will be exported to the rest of the continent, so it's important that we encourage the good solutions and stop the bad ones. This is a bad solution that needs to be stopped, ASAP.

*Two cases from 2011 that USA Today managed to miss have finally resulted in guilty verdicts and sentences for the perpetrators. First, a firefighter in Pennsylvania plead guilty to stealing 250 gallons of gas worth $820 from Cleona Borough fire company between March 4 and May 2 of last year. He was sentenced to restitution, a $50 fine, and 60 days probation. He got off lightly, especially compared to the municipal employee who stole up to 1,200 gallons of gas from the city of University Place, Florida last year. He pled guilty and was sentenced to $3,295.88 in restitution and two years of probation. He could have avoided a conviction if he had paid $6,200 in restitution, written an apology letter to the city, and attended an ethics class, but he decided against it. Sucks to be him.

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