JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – In the past week, gas prices have climbed seven cents statewide, regular unleaded reaching $3.72 per gallon on Monday.
Paying higher prices at the pump, however, has led to more motor fuel thefts, according to the Jonesboro Police Department.
Sgt. Lyle Waterworth says, since the beginning of the year, local gas stations have reported 49 cases of people leaving without paying for their gas. The latest incidents occurred Monday at the Kum & Go stations located at 2515 South Culberhouse and 2607 South Stadium. During the same time last year, police worked only 29 cases.
Experts predict gas to top four dollars in April, so the inevitable is pushing police to offer ways for local store owners to protect their costly product.
"Make people pre-pay," Waterworth said. "Don't turn the pumps on until you've received money for the product. There's very few other places that you can go and receive a product and not have to pay for it before you get to use it."
Shelly Mathena has already adopted that approach, strictly enforcing the pre-pay policy this year at Jordan's Kwik Stop at the corner of Highland and Nettleton.
"If we know who you are, my regulars know to wave at me," said Mathena, the station manager. "That way, we'll turn on the pumps. We know they're coming in. If we do not recognize you and cannot see the tag on your car, we will not turn on the pump. You'll have to come in and pre-pay."
In January Mathena says her station started cracking down on the pre-pay policy, and has reported few drive-offs since then. Cashiers are also watching customers more closely than ever before.
"The policy is you're supposed to pay attention to who's on the pump, what kind of vehicle it is, get the tag if you can and then call JPD and turn it in," Mathena added.
Police advise all stations to follow these protocols. Officers say they have a better chance of catching thieves if they know suspect or vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers.