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Kansas CIty police credit new law with drop in gas drive-offs

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By Ap/KWMU

Kansas City, MO – A city ordinance requiring drivers to prepay for gas has reduced the number of drive-offs from more than 1,100 in 2005 to virtually none over the past 13 months, police data show.

After the ordinance took effect last summer, only 24 drive-offs have been reported and 20 of those were an estimate from a patrol division that did not officially keep track during that time.

"That is excellent," said City Councilwoman Deb Hermann, who sponsored the measure. "Based on research into what happened in other cities, we anticipated a drastic drop-off."

Before the ordinance, stations along the northern and southern borders of the city were hardest hit by gas thieves. In the central part of the city, many stations already were requiring customers to pay before they pumped, so the problem wasn't as acute.

While police and most gas station operators were pleased with the reduction of drive-offs, at least one owner is unhappy because he says he lost too many cash clients.

"It's been a bad idea," said Dennis Carter, who owns several gas stations on the north side of the city. "The law, the way it's written, gives a certain company an advantage over the rest of us."

He believes convenience store chain QuikTrip gained customers because it has a patent on cards that allow customers to be preapproved, then pay with cash after they've pumped gas. He said people who are paying cash don't want to estimate how much their tank can hold and how much gas they need ahead of time.

"I've lost at least 50% of my cash customers," Carter said.

But other station owners applaud the ordinance.

"We haven't lost any business," said owner Howard O'Neil. "Not at all. In fact, last year my business went up about 20%."

He said he hasn't heard many complaints, other than some minor grumbling from people from out of town.

"Even if they stopped the ordinance, I'd still make my customers prepay," O'Neil said.

Police Sgt. Brad Stott said the ordinance helps prevent other crimes related to gas theft. He said gas station clerks who have tried to stop someone from driving off without paying sometimes got hit or run over by the fleeing vehicle. Also, gas thieves often disobeyed traffic laws and posed a threat to others.

As a result of the law, police can concentrate on things besides gas drive-offs, he said.

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