Investigating fuel thefts

I think the Finnish police is a bit short-sighted when it announces it would not like to investigate fuel thefts, and wants petrol stations to change to an operational model used in many other countries: fuel pumps are either fully automatic card/cash machines, or you first go to the cash counter and pay, and fill your tank only after payment. In Finland, the typical way to act at a gas station is still that you just drive your car to the pump, fill your tank, walk to the counter and tell the cashier which pump number you used and pay. Some people - very few, but enough to make a nuisance to the police - skip the part about visiting cashier, and just drive away.

Fully automatic card/cash dispensers are becoming more common as well - not really because of thefts, but simply because they can be operated 24/7 without significant staff costs.

But why is the police's idea short-sighted?

1. Because it increases the perception that the police is unwilling to solve crimes and apprehend criminals. They're concentrating on easy money that can be collected with speed cameras that in Finland are often more like traps than tools for road safety (hint: the road safety message would be more credible if the speed limits were clearly marked at the location of the cameras, as is done in other countries where I've been driving, like France and Germany).

2. Because the petrol thefts are typically rather unambiguous and clear crimes to solve and doing so leads you to find people that are in danger of slipping to a career where they commit other, more serious crimes. No, I don't mean that it leads you to just some car drivers. The pattern of stealing fuel is connected with other forms of petty theft, unsocial behaviour and, of course, dangerous driving. Visiting these people early in the career just might make a difference for how they behave in the long run.

3. Because it means we're giving in to anti-social behaviour, and I dislike that.

Fuel is often stolen by people who've stolen the car as well, and are often driving under influence. If you look at the statistics and analysis of deadly road accidents (see previous post), you can see that this group is well represented in the set of drivers responsible for fatal accidents.

The same argument can be made about the speed cameras, with whom the police (at least police leadership) have fallen in love. And the same thing indeed does work to some extent: you can spot some of the reckless drivers like that, and this helps to locate them. However, there are also some differences: often the most reckless drivers don't need to care about speed cameras because they drive stolen vehicles, so someone else will bear the brunt of police investigation. They even do the extreme speeding on the wrong side of the road, because then the speed camera won't get them. On the other hand, it's fairly easy to exceed the speed limit by moderate amounts accidentally; the speed limits are these days set rather illogically and are also poorly marked (as a number of senior policemen can testify when they themselves have been caught). With minor speeding, there was no intent for crime nor harming anyone.

So, I'd recommend that the police just stops complaining and does their work.

I understand it is frustrating. Career criminals are seldom jailed, and even if they are, they're soon back out, because keeping them inside is expensive. They don't pay their fines. Still, I don't think it is fair to concentrate on minor offenses by middle-class drivers just because it is possible for the state to collect more money from them.

Finally, yes: sometimes absent-minded people really forget to pay. That has happened to me a couple times over the 25 years that I've been driving. I did notice pretty soon, and turn back and pay, before the message reached the police.

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