The latest SA Police crime statistics show petrol-drive offs are hitting retailers hard – and the problem is only getting worse.

But the industry has chosen not to take up a solution that would put an immediate end to such thefts.

Over the past year, there have been 8967 petrol drive-offs in South Australia that have met the criteria for investigation, and another 7160 that did not.

That’s nearly 45 incidents a day – an increase on last year, when nearly 42 a day were reported.

It’s in some ways an unsurprising statistical increase. As the cost-of-living rises, people are left unable to pay for essentials like fuel and, in some cases, turn to theft.

But, as police have repeatedly pointed out, there’s a way to wipe out the problem entirely.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said fuel theft was “entirely preventable” if retailers implemented a pre-pay system for purchases.

“We’ve been working with the retail fuel industry for over a decade now looking at ways to prevent petrol theft,” he said.

“The reality is, and this is evidenced by the conduct of one particular retail outlet in South Australia, that fuel theft could be stopped overnight by the introduction of pre-paid fuel.

“There is no escaping that conclusion.”

The Costco fuel station, in Adelaide’s western suburbs, is understood to be the only outlet to not have experienced a petrol drive-off theft.

The pre-pay system is commonly used in America, where customers still have the option to go into the store to make purchases.

So why don’t Australian outlets do it?

Retailers are resistant to the idea because it would mean that customers no longer need to go in-store to pay for their petrol, and would therefore be less likely to pick up a drink or chewing gum on their way to the checkout.

They’d rather keep that business model and let police deal with the inevitable drive-offs.

This year alone, that model created nearly 9000 extra reports to be followed up on.

It’s a waste of SA Police’s already-stretched resources.

No theft is OK – but police can’t be everywhere, and retailers need to take some responsibility for protecting themselves in cases where that’s an option.

As they battle well-publicised recruitment and retention issues, the job for police only seems to be getting harder across the board.

The rolling year statistics also revealed family and domestic abuse-related offences have risen by 13 per cent.

Reports of shop theft increased, as did instances of serious criminal trespass.

From these numbers, it’s clear that police have more important things to be doing than chasing up petrol drive-offs.

It’s time for retailers to start helping themselves.

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