Prince George’s police: Lock up while gassing up

Brenda Wilkins gets a safety tip sheet from Prince George\'s County Police Cpl. Derreck Clagett. (WTOP/Kristi King)
What makes drivers a target

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 9:13 pm

WASHINGTON – Prince George’s County police are working to reduce a “crime of opportunity” they have seen lately: thieves stealing items from a car while the driver is pumping gas.

Police spoke with drivers at a Bowie, Md., gas station Monday morning, reminding them of the risk they face while filling up the tank.

“The suspects take advantage of that time you’re distracted for those few seconds you are paying for or pumping gas,” says Lt. William Alexander, a police spokesman.

“They approach your car quickly. They open your car door. They remove your purse or your iPad or your valuable item. Shut shut the door quietly. They get back in their car and drive away, usually in a matter of 5 seconds or less.”

Because people are so comfortable standing next to their cars while getting gas, Alexander says the crime is one that is “hard to really fathom,” but it occurs on a regular basis.

He says the distractions of the gas station and of cellphones leave people less aware of their surroundings.


Surveillance footage taken Sept. 6 at a Bowie gas station shows a suspect targeting two vehicles, one right after the other, and leaving with items from the vehicles. The suspect is still at large, Alexander says.

While authorities say the number of thefts from vehicles has decreased about 13 percent in the past year, they say they are committed to making the number even lower.

“It’s definitely a crime where we could have a significant impact if we can get people to take a few minutes to lock their car and pay attention to what’s going around them while they’re pumping gas,” Alexander says.

To help prevent gas station theft, police recommend the following tips:

  • Go to well-lit gas stations that have surveillance cameras near the pump.
  • Always remove your keys and lock the doors while pumping gas.
  • Take valuables out of plain view.
  • Pay attention to what’s going on around you.
  • Don’t get distracted by your cellphone.

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