Victoria Police will investigate every petrol drive off after overturning its controversial policy

Petrol crooks will be find it tougher to escape the law under policy changes. Picture: iStock. Courtesy: Herald Sun

Victoria Police will now ­investigate every petrol drive- off — backing down on a controversial policy that allowed fuel thieves to run rampant.

The Sunday Herald Sun can reveal that late last month, VicPol quietly changed its 2013 policy which required officers to get involved only if the ­vehicle was stolen, had fake plates or was owned by a known criminal. It also put the onus on servo operators to prove a crime was committed.

Now, officers must probe all fuel thefts, in order to build a dossier of serial offenders.

Under the old policy, police recorded 4002 petrol theft ­offences between April 2017 and March 2018. The industry now predicts that figure will double with the change.

The data shows Geelong is the epicentre of fuel drive-offs, with 456 offences in the past year, followed by Whittlesea, (355) and Casey (248).

Force command implemented a new policy in 2013 that stated cops would only investigate petrol thefts if the vehicle in question was stolen, had stolen or fake numberplates, or the registered owner was a known criminal.

It also put the onus on petrol station operators that they had to prove to police a crime had been committed before police would take action.

There are about 2000 petrol sites across the state, and the fuel industry estimates $162 is siphoned from each one weekly, putting the annual cost at ­almost $17 million.

Police spokeswoman Natalie Webster said under the new policy, police were responsible for making initial inquiries to determine if a criminal offence had occurred — including taking witness statements and looking at CCTV.

She said the policy had been “transformed in keeping with community expectations”.

“These changes are ­designed to reflect that petrol theft often occurs alongside other serious offending, and also assist police to identify ­repeat offenders and patterns of offending,” she said.

Any petrol-related offence, including civil debts, will be recorded on the police database.

A civil debt is when a driver fills up with no means to pay at hand, promises the attendant they will return and pay, but fails to do so.

Previously, service station owners were left to chase up payment, as police did not classify that as a crime.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive Jeff Rogut said the change in police policy was well overdue.

“A lot people have given up reporting the drive-offs ­because nothing happens,” Mr Rogut said.

“The police figures are just the tip of the iceberg. There has a been no real incentive for the fuel thieves to stop doing it.”

He said it was unfair that police told been telling petrol station owners that if they introduced prepay pumps, they would avoid such issues.