RECEIVED 10 AUG 2015 SUBMISSION NO. 26
Parliament of Victoria Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee Parliamentary Inquiry into Fuel Drive-Offs Terms of Reference Victoria Police welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee, Parliamentary Inquiry into Fuel Drive-Offs. On 22 June 2015 the Chief Commissioner of Police received an invitation from the Parliament of Victoria inviting Victoria Police to make a submission in response to the Terms of Reference.
A drive off typically occurs when a customer fills their vehicle with fuel at a self-service fuel station then drives off without paying. These incidents have a significant cost impact upon the Australian Fuel Industry and a resource impact on Victoria Police in relation to their recording and investigation.
a. a review of fuel drive offs in Victoria and other Australian and overseas jurisdictions to understand the extent and nature of the problem, and its cost to industry and the community; Victoria Police have reviewed the number of fuel drive offs over the last 4 years, Figure 1 shows the number of theft offences recorded at a Service Station location involving fuel from January 2010 to December 2014. It shows that the number of thefts increased up to 2012 but declined in 2013 and 2014, the data however will be affected by the Chief Commissioners Instruction regarding how fuel drives offs will be dealt with by police, this instruction came into effect on 1July 2013, this would alter the number of records of reports to police regarding the fuel thefts. Figures produced by the Crime Statistics Agency have also altered over the last few years; they were reported by financial year and are now reported by calendar year so a comparison of results is difficult. The statistics provided are now provided per calendar year. Figure 2 shows the number of theft offences recorded at a service station, by region. This shows the highest thefts each year occur in North West Metro and the lowest in Western Region.
Other theft offences recorded involving Fuel at a Service Station location January 2010 to December 2014 6000 4914
3111 3000 2000 1000 0 Jan - Dec 2010
Jan - Dec 2011
Jan - Dec 2012
Jan - Dec 2013
Jan - Dec 2014
Figure 1 - Statistics provided by the Crime Statistics Agency with data extracted from LEAP on 18 April 2015 and subject to variation. This includes other theft offences where Victoria Police members have recorded 'service station' as the location and have also recorded 'fuel' as the property type stolen. If you wish to obtain a quote or comment in relation to these statistics, please contact the CSA or Chief Statistician at 03 8684 1808 or email [email protected]
Other Theft offences recorded involving Fuel at a Service Station location by Region January 2010 to December 2014 3000 2500
1500 1000 500
728 480 196
689 666 443
0 Jan - Dec 2010 North West Metro
Jan - Dec 2011
Jan - Dec 2012
Southern Metro Region
Jan - Dec 2013
Jan - Dec 2014
Figure 2 - Statistics provided by the Crime Statistics Agency with data extracted from LEAP on 18 April 2015 and subject to variation. This includes other theft offences where Victoria Police members have recorded 'service station' as the location and have also recorded 'fuel' as the property type stolen.
The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) State of the Industry report in 2014 states that fuel volumes have increased on the previous year, however the data does not include
Coles Express, Woolworths Fuel or United. There was a reported increase in the average litres per transaction of +1 litres or 2.6%. The cost of Fuel Theft continued to grow in 2014 after a significant increase in the prior year, approximately 6.8%. The AACS estimates that Fuel Theft costs the industry $30 million per annum. In 2011/12 Victoria Police investigated 5932 reported fuel thefts, which represents a 15.2% increase in reports on the previous year. Annually these investigations cost Victoria Police 17,796 starff hours or 2,224 shifts per year - or in excess of $3.3 million dollars. In 2011/12 Victoria Police investigated 10,661 incidents of number plate thefts which equates to 21,322 man hours or 2,665 shifts. This also represents a 10.7% increase on the previous year and is estimated to cost Victoria Police $4.0 million dollars annually. Additionally there has been a 10 year trend analysis that identifies a definitive link / correlation between Fuel and Number Plate Thefts. Significant police resources are diverted to investigating fuel drive-offs in Victoria, with only a small number of these being resolved. Victoria Police introduced an instruction to all members in 2013, which outlined how members would respond to reports of fuel drive offs. Victoria police engaged with the industry prior to announcing the introduction of the Chief Commissioner Instruction. The instruction states: In self-serve fuel stations, it can be said that the nature of the transaction in the sale of the fuel is such that the proprietor consents to the customer’s appropriation of the fuel provided the customer intends to pay for it. To constitute theft, the appropriation by the customer must be accompanied by a dishonest intent. If the customer intended to pay for the fuel and for some reason, other than dishonesty, failed to do so, there is no reason for the failure to make payment to be treated as a criminal offence. Accordingly, there need not be a formal police report. Statistics in figure 3 shows that since the introduction of the Chief Commissioners Instruction the percentage of offences for theft of fuel resulting in arrests or summons have increased from 12.0% in 2012 to 18.8% in 2014.
% of offences resulting in an Arrest or Summons - Jan 2005 to Dec 2014 20.0 18.0 16.0
14.0 12.0 Chief Commissioner’s instruction introduced
10.0 8.0 6.0 4.0 2.0 0.0
Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec Jan - Dec 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Figure 3: Percentage of offences resulting in an Arrest or Summons
Chief Commissioner’s instruction introduced
Figure 4: Other theft offences recorded involving fuel at a service station by investigation status.
Victoria Police is not informed enough to comment on the other jurisdictions in Australia.
b. consideration of best practice approaches to preventing fuel drive offs in Australia and overseas, including educational and technological measures; Theft of fuel is most commonly committed in three ways: Ambiguous Intent Fuel Theft (AIFT): individuals use their own registered number plates and legitimately forget or claim to have forgotten to pay for fuel. Fraudulent Number Plate Fuel Theft (FNPFT): individuals steal number plates or conceal their own registered number plates with the intent of taking fuel without paying. Fraudulent Credit Card Fuel Theft (FCCFT): individuals steal credit cards and use them fraudulently by purchasing fuel. Fuel theft is driven by various environmental and market factors. A number of approaches to preventing fuel drive-offs have been developed around the world and fall under two broad categories: Consumer restrictive payment (in-store & self-service pre-paid and controlled post-pay). Non-restrictive crime prevention methods. Research has shown that retailers located in areas with high volumes of traffic can be more susceptible to fuel theft, particularly during peak times as well as retailers located in isolated areas, who can be more susceptible to fuel theft due to lack of competition and high fuel pricing. Forecourt and convenience store security can be enhanced by investment in crime prevention and anti-theft technology, such as video surveillance (blind spot reduction), fuel pre-pay or preauthorisation systems, and Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. The investment in prevention measures for example the use of pre-paying can be effective in reducing the number of fuel drive offs but there is a reluctance of convenience stores because this hurts their in store sales, where margins are higher and healthier. Therefore, there is a need for retailers to help decrease the number of fuel drive offs but to still maximise their profits. . Fuel Theft Prevention Practices Approaches to preventing fuel drive-offs fall under two broad themes: Consumer restrictive payment methods (in-store pre-pay and controlled post-pay); and Crime prevention methods. Consumer Restrictive Payment Methods In-store pre-pay In-store pre-pay describes a method of product delivery and payment where the consumer must estimate the required amount of fuel and make payment of that amount in-store before the pump will be activated. Retailers in a number of countries around the world have introduced pre-paid fuel for all or part of their operating period (i.e. from 10pm-6am). Some jurisdictions within the United States have legislated pre-payment at fuel retail outlets. These mandates were introduced in response to the drain on police resources through allocation to ‘low priority’ fuel theft crime. Pre-pay fuel retailers reported a significant reduction in fuel theft, however in some cases neighbouring retailers who did not employ pre-payment saw an increase in drive-offs. Many jurisdictions have considered in-store pre-payment as a solution to fuel drive-offs. Relevant outcomes and consumer and or convenience store operator’s opinions are summarised below: Pre-payment is inconvenient for consumers and can be frustrating when the required amount of fuel is over or underestimated, because customers must re-enter the store to obtain change or pay additional funds to an operator. In-store congestion can be greatly increased during busy times. Popular ‘fill it up’ approaches where the amount of fuel required is determined by the remaining tank capacity rather than the estimate of the consumer are not possible under the pre-payment method.
Pre-payment penalises all consumers despite only a small number actually doing the wrong thing. Pre-payment may affect buyer behaviour in the convenience store attached to the retail outlet; with some retailers’ even viewing financial losses through fuel drive-offs as ‘an operational cost of trying to drive profitable shops’. The cost of re-programming or buying new Point of Sale (POS) consoles in-store to support pre-payment may be considerable. If some retailers move to pre-pay and others do not, displacement of fuel theft may occur. Because of possible displacement, a consistent approach is essential. All fuel retailers would be required to implement pre-payment policies.
Controlled post-pay Controlled post-pay describes a method of product delivery and payment where the consumer must present a credit/debit card or identifying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card / toggle to active the pump console. Controlled post-pay is typically wholly or partially self-service.
Self-Service Technology: Pay-at-the-Pump A pay-at-the-pump facility requires the consumer to present a credit/debit or retailer-specific card at a ‘pay-at-the-pump’ facility before the pump will be activated. It is typically integrated into the fuel pump console in a station forecourt. Once use of the pump has been card-authorised, any amount of fuel can be pumped. The payment is automatically finalised once the pump handle has been returned to the cradle. As payment is immediate, pay-at-the-pump is one of the most effective methods of preventing AIFT and FNPFTs fuel drive-offs. Retailers in a number of countries have mandatory or optional pay-atthe-pump capabilities in-built in forecourt consoles, including Caltex and Shell retailers in Australia. Pay-at-the-pump fuel retailers report a significant reduction in fuel theft, however in some cases neighbouring retailers who do not employ pay-at-the-pump have seen an increase in drive-offs. Many jurisdictions have considered pay-at-the-pump as a solution to fuel drive-offs. Relevant outcomes and consumer and retailers opinions are summarised below: Pay-at-the-pump reduces in-store foot traffic, jeopardising convenience store attachment sales where profit margins are healthier. This point is the primary factor influencing retailers’ lack of willingness to install pay at the pump. Anecdotally, pay-at-the-pump is considered to be very convenient for consumers who prefer not to enter the store (i.e. those in a hurry and parents with small children in the car [particularly in jurisdictions where it is illegal to leave small children unattended in a car at any time]). Pay-at-the-pump relieves in-store congestion. o The cost of installing pay-at-the-pump facilities into established fuel station forecourt consoles would be considerable, and may not be possible / desirable for all retailers. o If some retailers move to pay-at-the-pump and others do not, displacement of fuel theft may occur. Because of possible displacement, a consistent approach would be essential. All fuel retailers would be required to implement pay-at-the-pump policies Self-Service Technology: Pump-Start Pump-start technologies describe a product delivery method where the consumer presents an RFID keychain toggle or card that is linked to their identification (e.g. via driver’s license) in order to active a fuel pump console either directly or via an in-store operator. The RFID receiver is typically integrated into the fuel pump console in a station forecourt. Presentation of the identifying toggle or card is a commitment to pay for the fuel after it has been pumped. Once use of the pump has been authorised, any amount of fuel can be pumped. Payment is finalised in-store with an operator. Pump-start toggles/cards can be linked with retailer rewards programs, and in-store discount initiatives.
An issue that has been recognised is because payment is not immediate, and toggle or card fraud is possible, pump-start is not as effective as other controlled post-payment or pre-payment methods. Retailers in a number of countries have mandatory or optional pump-start capabilities in-built in forecourt consoles, most popularly the United States: PumpStart; Speedpass; Loyalpass; Loyaldebit etc. Pump-start fuel retailers report a significant reduction in fuel theft, however in some cases neighbouring retailers who do not employ the technology have seen an increase in drive-offs. To avoid this kind of displacement, a consistent approach would be essential. All fuel retailers would be required to implement pump-start policies. Many jurisdictions have considered pump-start technologies as a solution to fuel drive-offs. Relevant outcomes and opinions are summarised below: RFID codes can and have been hacked by individuals or organised crime groups resulting in fuel revenue losses. Pump-start does not affect in-store foot traffic, and so does not jeopardise convenience store attachment sales. The cost of installing pump-start facilities into established fuel station forecourt consoles would be significant, and may not be possible / desirable for all retailers. If some retailers move to pump-start and others cannot afford to do the same, displacement of fuel theft may result in some stations being expressly targeted for drive-offs. Crime Prevention Approaches Traditional Crime Prevention (TCP) Traditional Crime Prevention is a partnership between police and retailers that utilises traditional forms of crime prevention for example; posters, stickers, guidelines / procedures, offence specific forms, and targeted operations. Case study: Targeted Operations - United Kingdom community prevention to ‘Forecourt Fuel Theft’ Forecourt crime has steadily risen in the Swindon County, U.K. In partnership with the Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPTs), Wiltshire Police Crime Management Unit launched the ‘Stay and Pay’ campaign designed to reduce fuel thefts from fuel stations. Police partnered with 19 fuel stations experiencing frequent fuel theft incidents. NPT provided staff with campaign posters, stickers and training packages, including security advice guidance notes/tips, explaining how to identify offenders. This operation relied upon drivers returning to pay for their fuel Enhanced Crime Prevention (ECP) ECP is a partnership between police and retailers that utilises traditional crime prevention methods enhanced by crime prevention and anti-theft technologies such as: Automatic Number Plate Recognition System (ANPRS) uses cameras using infrared spectrum cameras, these are installed strategically to assess number plates, Optical character recognition reads the number plate, the number plate is compared to stored information in database An audible and visual alert is generated to console operator and services can be refused System identifies vehicle and offender A point of display provides visual deterrent for offenders by providing customer evidence of security employed at site. Utilising CCTV for number plate recognition allows for number plate recognition and allows console operators to be alerted when vehicles have previously made off without payment who then return, supply can then be refused.
Integrated Partnership Response (IPR) – Best Practice IPR is an integrated and highly effective partnership between retailers, regulators, police and the community that pursues offenders via civil and criminal channels. Under the IPR model the industry is responsible for providing details of registration plates used in theft of fuel incidents to an industry regulator. Under legislation, the industry regulator can obtain identifying information about the last registered owner of the vehicle through their state motor vehicle registration body (i.e. Bureau of Motor Vehicles (U.S.), VicRoads). A notice of civil debt is then sent by the industry regulator to the registered owner (similar to an infringement notice), requesting the debt and an additional fine / administration fee be paid to avoid police action. If the registration plates are identified as stolen or the fuel theft is determined during the civil process to be clearly a criminal act, the matter is referred on to police. Where employed, these kinds of IPR models have been highly successful at reducing AIFT drive-offs. An example of Best Practice Regulation and Governance Model is the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS). The model, BOSS, regulates losses incurred by fuel retailers when ‘forecourt crime’ incidents involving ‘No Means of Payment’ (NMoP) occur. 1000 retailers are part of the scheme (retailers sell BP, Texaco or Total fuel): Retailers recoup 80% (on average) of financial losses resulting from drivers filling up, claiming to be unable to pay and subsequently failing to return to settle. The co-ordinated system provides motorists the chance to settle up on site or over the phone within seven days before specialist debt recovery agents take over pursuit of the money. If successfully recovered, the full amount is returned to the retailer. BOSS was formed in 1991 by the oil industry, partnering with the Home Office Crime Reduction Centre, and the Association of the Chief Police Officers. Associate Members include: UK Payments Banknote Watch CrimeStoppers Raid Control UKPIA BOSS aims to reduce the amount of crime taking place on Britain's fuel forecourts. Crime on Britain’s forecourts cost fuel retailers £23.4 million in 2011 up from £22.5 million in 2010. The main source of the estimated total loss is £16.2 million resulting from ‘drive-off’ incidents – compared to £15.5 million in 2010. A further £4.6 million lost from motorists claiming to have ‘no means of payment’ (NMoP) who then fail to return to clear their debt increased from £4.5 million. BOSS Payment Watch is a scheme to help UK fuel retailers recover losses incurred by ‘No Means of Payment’ (NMoP) incidents. So far more than 1,000 retailers have joined the scheme and feedback is overwhelmingly positive. BOSS payment is a scheme to help UK fuel retailers recover losses incurred by ‘no means of payment (NMoP) incidents. The combined drive-off and NMoP loss for the average UK service station in 2011 compared with the previous year rose 7%. In cash terms, despite an estimated fall of 10% in the number of litres stolen, was a consequence of fuel prices which rose 16% between 2010 and 2011. BOSS is addressing these problems on several fronts; At a local level, using Forecourt Watch schemes operating successfully, the losses have fallen by up to 55%. These schemes are initiated by BOSS on behalf of its members and help to forge productive working relationships between retailers and local police to ensure swift and efficient detection of forecourt crime. Key benefits Available to full BOSS members and independent retail members (BP, Shell, Texaco and Total branded service stations are automatically BOSS members).
More than 80 per cent NMoP debt recovery rate achieved – full fuel value recovered is returned to retailers. Proven, significant reduction in crime at participating service stations. BOSS supplies a Payment Watch pack complete with a full set of documentation. Easy for drivers to settle debt. Robust procedures for pursuing NMoP debt in the event that drivers do not return to pay. Targets repeat offenders and fraud. Partnership working adds more ‘eyes and ears’ to crime fighting efforts.
Case Study: Victoria Police ran a pilot program In 2003 fuel stations across Victoria were losing an average of $5000 a month in revenue due to fuel drive off. As a result Victoria Police trialled pre-paid fuel in Knox and Frankston in 2003. The initiative was run at times determined by each fuel outlet. The findings conclude that pre-paid works and could be implemented. Pre-pay signage was displayed stating that between certain times customers would be required to pre-pay for fuel. The pre-pay signage was offered to convenience stores by the VACC as well as theft warning stickers being displayed as a reminder to settle their account before leaving. Knox Pre-pay Knox was the first area where police made it mandatory for sites to provide evaluation data as part of their participation in the strategy. Evaluation was conducted after three and six months, the evaluation measured the impact pre-pay made in reducing their fuel thefts. The figures related to each service stations losses, not the losses reported to police. The Knox area started with 14 sites and at the end of the six month pre-pay period 17 sites were operating with pre-pay. Many of the sites state that drive offs increase over the summer period and that may account for a rise in November’s figures. Overall the sites stated there was some customer dissatisfaction in the first month or so but police media articles assisted the customers in accepting the strategy and its benefits. Pre-pay was implemented between either 8pm or 10pm(pre-pay hours), between June and November 2003. Average reductions were compared to March-May period, there was a 55.7% reduction for the period of June to August, and a 55.8% reduction for September to November. Overall a 57.5% reduction.
Non Pre-Pay Pre-Pay Hours
$4,000.00 $3,500.00 $3,000.00 $2,500.00 $2,000.00 $1,500.00 $1,000.00 $500.00 $0.00
Frankston Pre-pay Frankston sites were again required to provide evaluation data as part of their participation in the strategy. Evaluation was conducted after three and six months, the evaluation measured the impact pre-pay made in reducing their fuel thefts. The figures related to each service stations losses, not the losses reported to police. The Frankston area started with 18 sites and at the end of the six month
pre-pay period 23 sites were operating with pre-pay. Again sites stated that drive offs increase over summer and although there was an increase in November & December, it was about a 50% reduction for the same period last year. Similar to Knox police media articles assisted the customer to accept the strategy and its benefits. Pre-pay was implemented between either 8pm or 10pm, between July and December 2003. Average reductions were compared to April – June, for the period July to September there was 42.4% reduction, and for October to December there was a reduction of 26.0%. Overall a 43.9% reduction.
Pre-Pay Epping Trial There were 17 sites that participated in the Epping trial. The trial commenced pre-pay on 1st December 2002. In December the sites noted $0.00 worth of drive offs during pre-pay hours. There was a loss of $1504 worth of drive offs and inabilities to pay during non-pre-pay hours. Many sites stating drive offs during the day had decreased even though not in pre-pay mode. Some sites stated some customers were initially unsure of the new pre-pay arrangements but returned to get fuel when next due. In January the results noted again $0.00 worth of drive offs during pre-pay. A reduction to $746 worth of drive offs and inabilities to pay during non-pre-pay hours. Sites stating drive offs during the day had continued to decrease while not in pre-pay mode. Customers now appeared fine with the system and operators would continue. Noting the reductions could have been greater if the fuel station attendants strictly adhered to the conditions of pre-pay. The trials noted the following benefits to the prepay system o Improved customer safety. o Reduced OHS risks to Employees. o Reduced stress to employees - reduced staff turnover & absenteeism. o Inability to pay reduced to zero*. o No reduction in volume fuel sales*. o No reduction in shop sales*. o Saving on the recovery of losses. o Better business proposition (re-sale). o Reduced risk of console operator allowing drive offs to friends.
c. examination of ‘loss prevention’ measures in other industry sectors in Victoria, and other jurisdictions, that may be relevant and capable of being adopted in relation to fuel drive offs; Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design One of Victoria Police’s most successful loss prevention initiatives is a program known as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is an approach to crime prevention that takes into account the relationship between the physical environment and the users of that environment. It maintains that the design of a physical environment can produce behavioural effects that will reduce both the incidence and fear of crime. These behavioural effects can be accomplished by reducing the susceptibility of the environment to support criminal behaviour. There are three basic principles of CPTED, two of which are particularly relevant to fuel drive offs, and in that context, are defined as:
natural access control - decreasing criminal accessibility and intrusion into areas where they will not be easily observed by limiting access and increasing natural surveillance; natural surveillance - keeping potential offenders and intruders under observation by the placement of activities to maximize surveillance possibilities.
Closed Circuit Television Closed Circuit Television (CCT) is another very effective loss prevention strategy that is used by local councils and various other bodies. Victoria Police maintains a set of protocols for working with CCT owners, which cover communication, recording, accessing and deleting footage. CCT would provide a valuable resource to reducing fuel drive offs – and assisting with offender identification - however it is expected that this technology is already being used at many fuel outlets.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system identifies motorists committing specific road safety breaches by utilising custom built cameras and software that identifies registration number plates and checks these plates against relevant databases. The Victoria Police ANPR system detects stolen vehicles, stolen registration plates, vehicle whereabouts, unlicensed drivers, drivers with an interlock condition, and unregistered vehicles. An ANPR system, tailored to the specific requirements of fuel drive offs, could prove a valuable fuel loss prevention initiative. ANPR Case Study (New Zealand) In New Zealand, the police response to a high number of fuel drive-offs from a particular chain of outlets, included the use of ANPR technology to apprehend offenders. Achieving positive results from ANPR operations, some NZ fuel stations have since developed their own database of repeat offenders, and are able to download lists of suspect plates from the police website. When the fuel station identifies a suspect at one of their pumps, the pump is shut down before the offender lifts the handle. Clearly displayed signage indicating CCTV / ANPR usage is an additional loss prevention measure.
Engaging Employees in Loss Prevention The degree to which retail employees feel engaged and valued has been found to be a significant factor in whether a retailer experiences high levels of internal shop theft. It has been suggested that retail managers do more than just engage staff in the importance of loss prevention strategies, such
as undertaking more general activities, i.e., rewarding high performance, keeping staff informed of changes, and seeking their feedback.
Information Sharing There are currently no formal information sharing arrangements in place between Victoria Police and the retail / fuel outlet industry. The primary business concerns of retail sector stakeholders revolve around customer service, and shop theft offences are often not reported to police, particularly where the offender has been detected and the theft averted. A similar situation exists with fuel drive offs, particularly when large retail companies are the target. Retailers ordinarily record stock losses for their own reporting purposes, and while this allows them to identify their levels of loss, it is not known what level of internal analysis is conducted to identify and develop in-store opportunities for crime prevention. One of the recommendations of the Victoria Police Shop Theft Response Strategy 2014 – 2016, was that Victoria Police Crime Command engage in initial discussions with major retailers to improve information sharing. It is understood that retailers have demonstrated a willingness to engage with Victoria Police and improve data and information sharing arrangements specifically in relation to the activities of prolific career criminals and organised crime syndicates operating in retail stores.
d. current civil and criminal remedies available to address fuel drive offs and theft, and the efficacy of those remedies;
Victoria police believe that the sale of petrol at a self-service petrol station constitutes a civil agreement between the parties and therefore any dispute that arises regarding payment, should be treated as a civil matter. The continual and growing demand on police to attend and investigate reports of fuel drive offs from Self Service Petrol Stations is impacting on Victoria Police’s capacity to address other more pressing operational issues. It is the opinion of Victoria Police that Fuel drive offs are preventable crimes that could be eliminated or reduced through recognised crime prevention measures such as pay at the pump or prepaid arrangements. This has formed the basis of a change in policy by Victoria Police and on 1 July 2013 the Chief Commissioners Instruction was introduced after consultation with the Victoria Petrol Retail Industry. The Chief Commissioners Instruction, states fuel drive offs will be considered civil in nature, there is no formal report required to Victoria Police, Victoria Police will not attend unless there are specific safety concerns or a specific crime scene (other than CCTV footage); and Victoria police will only investigate a reported incident where reliable and credible evidence exists that establishes a prima facie criminal offence.
Civil Remedies and Efficacy The first step in a civil remedy is to make out a letter of demand to the debtor, after which, legal action can be commenced in circumstances where the demand is rejected. The issue for Petrol Station Proprietors (PSP) is that they have no practical legal means to obtain the identity of a registered owner of a motor vehicle. The Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 and the Road Safety Act prevent VicRoads and Victoria Police from providing personal information to PSPs in respect to a civil debt.
Criminal Remedies and Efficacy When a PSP reports a fuel drive-off to police, police would create an incident report in circumstances where the PSP is also able to provide information which prima facie indicates dishonest intent. Victoria Police and VicRoads are currently working on a data sharing agreement which will allow Victoria Police to officially use the information about stolen vehicles and stolen plates for display to the public or VACC, this agreement is still a work in progress. This would give the PSP access to stolen vehicle records and may assist in speedier reporting and investigation. This information is later populated into the Victoria Police LEAP database. Police would then conduct an investigation and in most cases, identify the registered owner of the vehicle and investigate in the normal manner. The difficulty for law enforcement is that without investigation, law enforcement cannot clearly determine if an incident is a civil debt or criminal offence when drive offs are reported. A person steals if they dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the other of it, section72(1) Crimes Act 1958. Based on several case law decisions, for a charge of theft to be proven, amongst other things the dishonest intent must occur at the time of taking the fuel and not after, when the person drives off.
To constitute theft, the appropriation by the customer must first of all, be dishonest. If the customer at the time of putting the fuel into their car intended to pay for it there is no dishonesty in the appropriation at that stage and therefore, no theft has been committed. In order for police to charge an offender, evidence is required to inform intent from the driver, this may come from admissions of the driver and or overt acts surrounding the offence, which when considered establish a prima facie case of theft. The industry chooses to extend credit to customers; whereby fuel stations allow customers to take the goods before payment. This procedure complicates law because intent cannot be established. Unlike in supermarket stores the customer does not have to pass through the checkout at the fuel pump site before leaving the premises. If a person drives off without paying the customer can claim they have driven off and forgot to pay, becoming a civil debt and police have no role. Police have strained resources to investigate all fuel non-payment incidents, therefore assessing if fuel drive offs constitute a criminal offence (theft) or constitutes a civil matter between the proprietor of the fuel station and the customer needs to be addressed by regulators, government and industry. There is a great deal of legal complexity in determining the offence as criminal or a civil debt. If police are unable to clearly establish customer intent to the transaction when purchasing fuel therefore there is a need to clearly determine proprietor and customer intent. The elements that constitute theft is the customers intent, either honest or dishonest. There is a need to determine whether the customer had the intention to pay for fuel at time of putting in fuel and a requirement to establish dishonest behaviour by customer when driving off with stolen fuel, the fuel no longer belongs to the proprietor. The United Kingdom BOSS model, as mentioned in section b, encompasses a national approach where retailers have a standard approach to recouping fuel theft funds. Australia does not have a singular regulating body to govern a national approach. Therefore national petroleum companies need to comply by varying state and national regulation. Australian Legislation The following table informs guiding legislation involving motor vehicles, theft, transport and road safety: Federal Legislation Interstate Road Transport Act 1985 o Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS) established under the Interstate Road Transport Act 1985 commencing in 1987. o Alternative to using state based regulation for heavy vehicles weighing more than 4.5 tonnes. Interstate Road Transport Act 1986 Crimes Act 1914 Victorian State Legislation Road Safety Act 1986 Road Safety Regulations 2009 Transport Act 1983 Infringements Act 2006 Crimes Act 1958 Summary Offences Act 1966 Magistrates Court Act 1989
e. possible linkages between fuel drive offs and crime, such as number plate theft and vehicle theft; Intelligence briefs support the link between fuel drive offs and number plate thefts as well as a definite connection between fuel prices. It is highly likely that theft of number plates is used as a form of identity fraud and to gain a financial advantage. It is the opinion of Victoria Police that VicRoads procedures may need to be assessed and tightened with thousands of unaccounted number plates within the community. A partnership approach to this may be a solution: for example, in VicRoads do not enforce the regulations or have an administrative process to recover the outstanding plates. in place to recover cancelled or expired number plates, as a result there are literally thousands of number plates circulating in the community. Case Study of VicRoads Policies and Procedures In 2011 a Customer Service Manager at VicRoads provided the following details relating to inconsistencies in VicRoads policies and procedures: Customers are not required to produce a theft from motor vehicle crime report to justify the issue of new number plates If one plate is stolen, customers will receive a different set of plates but they are not required to hand in the remaining plate If Personalised number plates are issued to a customer there is no requirement for the original plates to be handed back to VicRoads If Personalised plates are stolen a new set can be reissued. The customer will be advised by VicRoads that the plates will be flagged as stolen. There is no limit to how many times these plates can be reissued so there could be numerous sets of identical plates active within the community
Number Plate Thefts In the 2009/2010 financial year, 4,307 fuel drive offs were reported to police with 776 or 18% of them cleared. There were 8887 offences of number plate thefts for the same time. In the 2010/11 financial year the number of reports of fuel drive offs had grown to 5,078, with clearance rates at 19.3% or 982 offences cleared and the corresponding number plate thefts increased to 9942. This equates to an overall increase in reports of 15.2% or 771 offences in fuel drive offs and a 10.7 % increase in number plate thefts, with an overall clearance rate of 6.9%. Figure 4 shows the correlation between the number of fuel thefts, the number of number plate thefts and the price of fuel. Petrol Prices vs Petrol Theft and Theft of Number Plates 01-JUL-2007 to 30-JUN-2012
600 $0.80 400
Number Plate Theft
Petrol price per litre
Jul-07 Aug-07 Sep-07 Oct-07 Nov-07 Dec-07 Jan-08 Feb-08 Mar-08 Apr-08 May-08 Jun-08 Jul-08 Aug-08 Sep-08 Oct-08 Nov-08 Dec-08 Jan-09 Feb-09 Mar-09 Apr-09 May-09 Jun-09 Jul-09 Aug-09 Sep-09 Oct-09 Nov-09 Dec-09 Jan-10 Feb-10 Mar-10 Apr-10 May-10 Jun-10 Jul-10 Aug-10 Sep-10 Oct-10 Nov-10 Dec-10 Jan-11 Feb-11 Mar-11 Apr-11 May-11 Jun-11 Jul-11 Aug-11 Sep-11 Oct-11 Nov-11 Dec-11 Jan-12 Feb-12 Mar-12 Apr-12 May-12 Jun-12
Figure 2: Based on average monthly metropolitan price of unleaded fuel. Produced by State Intelligence Division, Victoria Police, 2013. Offence data extracted by Corporate Statistics from LEAP on 18 December 2012 and is subject to variation. Petrol price data sourced from Fueltrac Pty Ltd.
analysis of regulatory, technological or other interventions that could be adopted by industry (including peak bodies), in concert with Victorian government agencies, to support the availability and application of civil remedies to respond to fuel drive offs;
Regulatory: Currently the regulatory requirements for a fuel retailer to consider a debt recovery through the Magistrates Court Civil Jurisdiction are complex and costly. For an action to be considered a solicitor would need to be engaged to prepare the necessary application and to attend court to make the application. Obtaining financial advice adds another financial burden on top of the existing drive off loss. Lodgement of the application also attracts court costs amounting to several hundred dollars, a further financial liability. This process is sometimes used by private car park companies to pursue owners of vehicles that park in a car park but neglect to pay the fees. The initial court application is to obtain an order directing VicRoads to disclose the known details of the registered owner of the vehicle allegedly involved in the fuel drive off. When these details are obtained a further court application needs to be prepared to action a civil debt recovery for the loss arising from the fuel drive off. Any consideration under the civil process is predicated on the assumption that the fuel retailer has reliable information associated with the drive off that will support a civil prosecution. (Witnesses, photographic evidence, sales records.)
Technological: The application of technology to loss prevention associated with fuel drive offs is only limited by the desire and financial restraints of the retailer. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) is widely used by petrol retail industry; however, the systems require administrative support and data sharing arrangements with other retailers. Sharing of fuel drive off data is not common shared between competitors due to a desire to obtain a commercial edge over competitors. ANPR cameras can also be linked to screens, as a deterrent, within the view of the customer to make them aware that they are being recorded. Other technology options could include driveway exit spikes linked to ticketing system to prevent a drive off until payment is made. The use of an application on a mobile telephone or a computer by fuel retailers at the point of sale (Console Operator) to verify as best they can from VicRoads publicly accessible records, that a car is not stolen or the plates on a customer’s car are not stolen, is currently available. However, most fuel retailers are reluctant to apply this process because of the potential time delays to run the search before the pump is authorised. Industry advise that any time delays impacts on the customer’s purchasing experience at that venue. Some environmental design faults may prevent clear vision of the number plate to run to inquiry. In support of the community generally, VicRoads is currently developing a stolen car and stolen number plate database that members of the community can access to check if a suspicious car is stolen. This application will have a wider community application. The availability and access to civil remedies in response to fuel drive offs is challenging and costly. However, investment in a range of prevention strategies would be beneficial and reduce the reliance on a civil court approach. Staffing levels at petrol retail outlets have the appearance of a minimalist model. Generally, the Console Operator is required to administer a large number of pumps, manage
the retail shop sales and to account for fuel sales. The emphasis on customer service is focused on the retail experience in the convenience shop attached to the service station, not a customer service focus on the fuel sale. (No meet and greet of customer or assistance.)
g. examine the feasibility of introducing co-regulatory approaches to enforcement, including use of technology such as CCTV, or practices such as pre-payment and preregistration and implications of such approaches for privacy. Privacy: Pre- payment, pre-registration or any other variation of this sales approach is voluntarily entered into by the consumer. The place where the transaction of goods takes place is in a public place, the ANPR and CCTV cameras are overtly positioned; therefore the customer must have a reasonable expectation of being recorded if they enter the premises and engage in a sales transaction. This is consistent with legislation associated with surveillance requirements placed on law enforcement agencies. Opposition from fuel retailers to any form of pre-payment appearsto be linked to franchise arrangements and business models that have an integral focus on sales arising from the convenience store associated with the petrol station, not the fuel sales per se. Profit margins on fuel sales have been well publicised and the general view is that there is not a large profit margin associated with retail fuel sales. Whereas, the retail store component linked to a petrol station provides additional sales opportunities to a petrol station operator, for products that attract significantly higher profit margins than fuel sales. Technology to provide pre-payment is available, and has been applied in fuel retailing for many years. Victoria police were advised that one convenience store chain disabled the pre pay option on fuel pumps when they took over a fuel retail network in Victoria. Payment at the pump is available in some Victorian fuel retailers. One chain has a facility to swipe a corporate fuel card to pre authorise a sale. At the completion of the sale (The required amount of fuel is pumped into the car tank). The payment is finalised at the pump without the necessity to enter the convenience store.