The extent of Victoria’s petrol drive-off epidemic has been laid bare.

A year after police declared game-on against fuel bandits, new figures show thousands of thefts are occurring.

The state’s road authority is working to give service station operators better access to the registration details of offending vehicles, but it’s been lashed for dragging the chain.

Latest Crime Statistics Agency data compiled for the Herald Sun shows 7600 petrol thefts were recorded in the year to June — up from 4700 a year earlier.

Brimbank, Whittlesea, Wyndham, Greater Geelong and Hume were the state’s petrol drive-off capitals.

Victoria Police in June last year agreed to investigate all petrol drive-offs, reversing an earlier policy that placed the burden of proving an offence had been committed on the service station operators to get police involved.

“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,’’ Assistant Commissioner Cindy Millen said.

“As a result of these policy changes, there has been an increase in the number of fuel thefts recorded, which was something we expected to see.

“We want to assure everyone that police are committed to investigating petrol-theft ­offences and holding offenders to account.”

Specialist fuel liaison officers were working to tighten security at outlets and police in the southeast were conducting extra night patrols to nab culprits linked to serious crimes.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores chief executive officer Jeff Rogut, representing 5500 stores nationwide, said fuel theft cost Victoria’s industry as much as $20 million a year.

“We just need greater action to say this is unacceptable,’’ Mr Rogut said.

“A crime is a crime.”

APCO director Peter Anderson, whose chain resorted to making a “wall of shame” using the images of petrol thieves, said it cost each of its 25 stores $500-$1000 a month.

Mr Anderson said while there had been talk of Vic­Roads trialling number plate technology, he had “heard nothing, seen nothing”.

Promises of a real-time system that allowed retailers to pool the details of petrol thieves also hadn’t eventuated.

“It’s rampant,’’ Mr Anderson said.

“There are no consequences to their actions so we are just continually getting more and more crime-related incidents on our forecourt and in our stores. They are becoming more violent and aggressive each month.”

The Herald Sun has been told VicRoads last year conducted a small trial of technology allowing service stations faster access to registration data.

Further work was planned.

VicRoads executive director Dean Tillotson said it was continuing to work with Victoria Police to reduce the number of drive-offs.

“We are investigating technology options that would enable service station operators to access limited number plate data at the speed and frequency needed for everyday operations,” he said.

Extracted from Daily Telegraph