Flower Mound officials may soon decide to target rising gas thefts as an easy way to cut the crime rate 8 percent and free up officers for community patrols. The town could join a growing number of cities - including Burleson, El Paso and Kansas City, Mo. - that require gas stations to have customers pay upfront.

The strategy worked in Burleson, where gas thefts rose faster than any other crime in 2005. Since the city's ordinance passed in April, gas thefts have plummeted - to zero.

Don't expect Dallas to join the list anytime soon. Police there and in many suburbs don't respond to gas theft calls. Store managers fill out police reports primarily for insurance purposes.

Area police said it's difficult to successfully prosecute a gas thief, even if a station files charges. A photo of the license plate isn't enough. Surveillance cameras must clearly capture the driver's face.

"We were basically a collection agency for the gas stations," Burleson police Capt. Chris Havens said. "When they don't want to prosecute, we're wasting manpower when we could be doing other things."

"I was a little concerned that maybe this was over-government," said council member Paul Stone, who ran an Arlington gas station 20 years ago. "But I don't like our crime rate being inflated by 8 percent because of this statistic. I don't want to see our police officers getting tied down in pursuing this."

As Flower Mound officials looked into an ordinance, they were surprised to find that only seven of the town's 17 gas stations require prepayment. Many follow corporate policies that customers be allowed to pay after they pump.

Gas thefts hurt storeowners, too. The National Association of Convenience Stores reported $300 million in gas theft in 2005, a 27 percent increase over 2004. Most stores profit only pennies per gallon on gas sold and must swallow the cost of stolen gas.

"As an employee and from the management side, we love it," Arrin Flanary, manager of a RaceTrac station along FM407, said of Flower Mound's proposal. "If the town requires it, we'd be happy to comply."

Here's how it works: If customers pay with a credit card at the pump, storeowners take a double hit. They lose about 3 percent from credit card fees, and card users are less likely to go inside the store to buy other products.

Most storeowners break even on gas sales and turn profits on in-store sales. Stores make as much, or more, from the sale of a 12-ounce cup of coffee as they do from 12 gallons of gas, according to the convenience store association.

"You have to go inside, ask to turn the pump on, decide how much you want to buy," said Ken Burrows, manager of a Tetco station on Long Prairie Road that allows payment after pumping. "People want to get their gas and then come in and go shopping."

Still, Mr. Burrows said he wouldn't fight the proposed ordinance because it would affect all Flower Mound stations - and because he's witnessed "too many drive-offs" to count.

At QuikTrip, for example, cash customers can sign up for a special card that turns on pumps. They pay with cash after filling up. If they drive off, the station knows who did it.

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