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Moorhead police to pursue charges in gas thefts

MOORHEAD - Responding to reports of increased thefts, Moorhead police will consider investigating gas station drive-offs as possible criminal cases starting Monday.

MOORHEAD - Responding to reports of increased thefts, Moorhead police will consider investigating gas station drive-offs as possible criminal cases starting Monday.

For the past decade, since a state law allowing civil collections in such cases was passed, Moorhead cops haven't pursued stolen-gas allegations as thefts, Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

That will change with the new policy put in place after the manager of nine area Stop-N-Go locations asked Moorhead police to reconsider their position on drive-offs, said Deputy Chief Shannon Monroe.

"It's time to start charging people who don't think they have to pay for their gas," said John Esser, who manages two Moorhead Stop-N-Go stores and seven in the Fargo area.

Esser asked for a change in the policy because he's recently seen more thefts as the price at the pump soared. He said there are three or four gas thefts a week per store.

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"They're tough on the shoplifting in the store, but this is even more serious because the dollar amount is way up there," Esser said.

Monroe said he's gotten nothing but positive feedback from other station owners and managers. The stores can still seek a civil collection and not contact police if that's preferred.

Here's how the new policy, based on a similar step taken by St. Paul's Ramsey County, will work starting Monday, Monroe said:

E If it appears the nonpayment was an innocent mistake, police may ask the driver to simply pay the outstanding bill.

E Police could levy a $30 service fee in addition to requiring the customer to pay the bill but not seek a theft charge. The city keeps the service fee.

E If they think it's clear there was intent to steal the gas, cops will seek theft charges in drive-offs.

There are some obvious signs the tank of gas was stolen instead of overlooked, police say. For instance, license plates on a vehicle may be obscured or stolen, or the driver might not return the nozzle to the pump so the clerk doesn't realize a fill-up is finished.

Esser said it's typically pretty easy to tell from the surveillance video whether the theft was intentional.

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Fargo police had already been considering drive-offs for possible theft charges, but Lt. Joel Vettel said it is difficult to prosecute.

"Oftentimes, we find they just want their money back," Vettel said.

Vettel said Fargo officers make sure store officials realize they'll need to cooperate with the ensuing investigation if they want to seek charges, and police emphasize they are not a collection agency.

"We've had some that say, 'No, not interested,' " he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

Related Topics: CRIME
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