Proposed ordinance would require motorists to prepay for gas in Janesville

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Jake Magee
Thursday, July 20, 2017

JANESVILLEResidents and motorists who stop for gas in Janesville soon might have to pay before they pump.

On Monday, the city council will schedule a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would require Janesville gas stations to accept only prepayment for any gas transactions, Police Chief Dave Moore said.

Businesses would be able to opt out of the requirement, but those that do no longer would be allowed to report gas drive-offs to police, Moore said.

The idea for the ordinance came after police responded to 165 reports of people pumping gas and leaving without paying over an 11-month period last year, he said.

Of those 165 reports, officers determined only 20 were intentional thefts. Officers arrested suspects in only three of those cases and prosecuted only one, Moore said.

Moore estimates officers spent about 100 hours investigating the gas drive-offs. Spending that much time investigating that many reports to prosecute only one intentional thief isn't ideal, he said.

Moore encourages his officers to be problem-solvers and come up with creative ways to solve repeat problems. That's how the proposed ordinance was born, he said.

The ordinance wouldn't change anything for motorists who use credit or debit cards to buy gas at the pump. It would require those who use cash to pay inside before pumping.

Some gas stations might have to pay for the technology they need to accept prepayment, Moore said.

Police have heard positive and negative feedback from local gas stations.

In an email to the police department, Stop-N-Go President Andrew Bowman wrote that chasing down preventable thefts is not the best use of police resources.

“This ordinance would help make the stresses of our employees less and reduce police time spent responding to gas thefts,” he wrote. “When shopping at a grocery store, department store or electronic store, you pay for the merchandise before you are allowed to leave the store to put it in your car.”

Other business owners who support the ordinance have said they're glad it's a citywide ordinance so competition stays even, Moore said.

Some gas station owners have told police they're smaller than Stop-N-Go and Kwik Trip, and they think they can keep a close eye on customers pumping gas, making the ordinance unnecessary, he said.

“No penalty for not requiring prepayments seemed to make it acceptable to them,” Moore said.

Sometimes, an employee might report a gas drive-off and incorrectly identify the suspect. Police investigate and find out the suspected thief actually paid, Moore said.

Other times, employees chase gas thieves and trip and hurt themselves, he said.

The ordinance would end such incidents.

A public hearing on the ordinance will be held during the council's Aug. 14 meeting.

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