"If you're thinking about stealing petrol, think again. You won't get away with it."
This is the message Ballarat police want to send to the community.
While for several years Victoria Police policy indicated that petrol thefts were a civil matter and they were not investigated unless there was clear evidence of a criminal offence such as stolen registration plates, in 2018 the policy implemented five years earlier was reversed to bring it in line with community expectation.
At the time of the policy change, the state government estimated that fuel theft cost retailers up to $20 million each year.
Ballarat police have been more widely investigating petrol thefts since the policy change.
A year ago a role was established focusing on investigation of the crimes, which has been further developed in the past couple of months, with more of a frontline focus.
With operators such as BP stating that the occurrence of petrol theft is increasing, police are now taking a more proactive approach.
First Constable Emma Grantham has been working in the role of Petrol Theft Coordinator since late last year.
In her role, she is a point of contact between the service stations around Ballarat and works closely with other frontline members and detectives.
When a petrol drive off is reported either through 000 or the police station itself, First Constable Grantham is handed the file.
She then liaises with the service station to obtain CCTV footage.
In an effort to identify an offender, she disseminates the footage - first internally and then externally to the public on the Eyewatch Ballarat Facebook page.
Ballarat Police have released an image to The Courier of a male and female they are seeking to identify. Can you help?
Petrol theft is often linked to other crimes such as theft of vehicles, theft from vehicles, aggravated burglaries and other deception and damage offences.
And it is frequently committed by recidivist offenders.
Police have determined petrol theft as a key point when they can identify an offender, with service stations a place where clear CCTV images can be obtained of the offender, the vehicle they are travelling in and the company they keep.
You might also like: Why you will see police peering into cars across the city next week
You might also like: Meet the police unit addressing family violence across the region
First Constable Grantham said police were able to glean a lot of information by viewing footage.
This includes gathering information about the most prominent locations and times the thefts occur, which assists police with knowing where to focus patrols.
Police hope this intelligence will assist with developing methods for theft prevention going forward.
Before an investigation is launched into a theft, police must first determine if a crime has occurred. People who have simply forgotten to pay receive a phone call from police or a knock on the door.
However, if it involves a criminal offence such as the vehicle being stolen or displaying stolen plates, police launch an investigation.
With a high number of the offenders involved in other crimes, often obtaining the image and disseminating it internally across other units means it is possible to identify an offender.
But in the case they are unknown, police are now more frequently utilising Facebook as a second means to ascertain an identity, to much success.
With so many new service stations popping up around Ballarat, there is a varying approach to preventing petrol theft.
Constable Grantham works closely with operators in regards to improving security measures, and said the concept of pre-paying for petrol had been quite effective, but it would take a united approach from operators around Ballarat to really tackle the issue.
While the unit is still in its infancy, she works closely with the managers of individual service stations around Ballarat but said in future it could be expanded to working with the companies themselves.
A BP spokesperson said fuel theft was a growing issue across Australia.
BP reports all incidents of deliberate fuel theft to police and provides evidence including CCTV footage when required. We appreciate the support of the local authorities in reducing the impact of fuel theft.A BP spokesperson
A Caltex spokesperson reiterated that the impact of theft on the industry was significant and it too takes failure to pay "very seriously" and refers all instances of theft to police.
One initiative Caltex has undertaken is the introduction of number plate identification technology at its stores, in order to prevent repeat offences.
Due to petrol theft being linked to other crimes such as stolen vehicles and registration plates, police urge the community to be proactive with security by securing their vehicles in locked garages, ensuring registration plates are secured with anti-theft screws and reporting any suspicious behaviour to police.
Anybody with information regarding the investigation mentioned above is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or to file a confidential report online.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.