In an effort to prevent drive-off gasoline thefts, Fenton officials are discussing the possibility of putting prepay requirements in place.

Some cities and counties have already put such a measure in place.  Last year, Jefferson County Council officials passed an ordinance requiring customers to prepay for all gas purchases at any pumps in the county’s unincorporated areas. 

St. Louis County Fenton Police Precinct Capt. Norman Mann suggested that Fenton do the same, as a neighboring area and the most likely next target for gas thieves.

While 32 drive-offs were reported in Fenton in 2019, Mann said he expected the city’s gas theft problem could double given the neighboring county prepay rule.

“We anticipate our drive-offs will now go up, and that it would be a good idea to require patrons to pay in advance,” he said during the board’s Feb. 6 meeting. “Drive-offs are problems to investigate because clerks often have the wrong license plate or the plates are found to be stolen.”

Mann said retail clerks hurriedly trying to capture license plate numbers often send police to drivers who have receipts for their gas purchases, which translates into wasted time for false reports. Some officers indicate it can take four to six hours to investigate, write and file a drive-off report.

“We get texts daily from gas stations with photos of cars and it takes a lot of time,” Mann said.

Fenton Alderman Paul Seemayer said he was recently involved with a gas purchase situation that resulted from a misunderstood license plate.

Fenton City Attorney Erin Seele said she wanted to make sure any future violations from adopting a prepay policy would be in line with state compliance.

Fenton Alderwoman Chris Clauss brought up the quandary that could come with paying cash at a gas pump and then having to go back into the station or convenience store to get refund change if the full amount of gas wasn’t pumped.

Some convenience stores and gas stations offer prepaid gift cards that operate just like cash, which could alleviate cash transactions for gas purchases.

“Any time we propose regulations on businesses, I try to think through ramifications,” Fenton Alderman Richard Patton said. “I would be very interested to hear what various gas station operators are thinking about this. It also could represent a competitive advantage in and outside city limits with gas operators who are just across the street from each other.”

Patton said he would rather see a St. Louis County Council ordinance for this rather than individual communities adopting restrictions.

Mann said St. Louis County would only be covering unincorporated areas of the county.

“We’re always looking for new, innovative ways to fight crime,” Mann said. “Gas drive-offs could be completely eliminated here. We know those violators are also shoplifting. With gas prepayment in place, maybe they’ll avoid Fenton all together.”