PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Amid high pump prices in Portland, gas thieves are cutting their way through fences and fuel lines, drilling holes to drain tanks, and leaving thousands of dollars in repairs – all to get their hands on what police are calling an increasingly valuable commodity.

Although the crime is difficult to track, a Portland Police spokesperson told KOIN 6 News “anecdotally” the agency has seen a rise in gas theft incidents in recent months.

By mid-March, there were at least four reports of fuel theft made in the city within a 10-day period. 

“I think that it’s fair to say that there’s probably some correlation to the high gas prices,” Said Sergeant Kevin Allen with the Portland Police Bureau. “It’s a much more valuable substance than it used to be, and some criminals want to take advantage of that.”

While gas theft is not a new crime, Allen warned thieves are using more unconventional methods than the standard forms seen by the agency in the past, such as siphoned fuel, cut gas lines, or holes drilled into tanks.

“They’re not all the same method of operation,” said Allen. “We’ve had a few cases where people have broken the locks on gas pumps, and then used the pump to fill their gas tank. And that’s not something that I have seen a lot of before, so it certainly makes you wonder if there’s a correlation here.”

As criminals continue to develop new ways to steal fuel, police told KOIN 6 News there are several measures residents can take to make themselves less of a target. 

How to protect yourself from becoming a victim of gas theft

Park in a garage or other secure location

Acknowledging that not all residents may have access to an indoor parking garage, Allen said leaving your vehicle in a location with limited access is perhaps the best way to avoid theft. “If you have a place where people can’t get to your car at all, then that’s going to make it certainly more secure,” he said.

Keep your vehicle well-lit

“Good lighting can make a big difference,” Allen said. “If there is a lot of light on your vehicle, or a motion light, that certainly makes it a bit harder for people to get to your car and commit this crime.”

Unlike some other kinds of thefts, Allen pointed out stealing gas takes a long time, so ensuring your vehicle is lit will increase the odds of the burglar being caught. 

Surveillance camera systems

Whether it’s a Ring or a porch camera, many home-surveillance systems come with a motion-activated feature that alerts owners when a person is on their property. 

While Allen said these cameras are not a fix-all, he encouraged those with surveillance systems to ensure the setup has a clear view of their vehicles, as the cameras may act as a deterrent for crimes like gas theft.

Commercial gas tank locks

“They do sell commercial gas tank locks,” Allen explained. “You can even get a cap that you can lock with a key, or there are other devices that lock the gas door. From the siphoning angle, that certainly might help.”

Gas tank locks are available online at Amazon and Walmart.

“The best strategy is to try to avoid becoming a victim in the first place … make it harder for the criminals to steal from you,” Allen said. “But we certainly hope this sort of seeming trend turns around and we don’t see this continuing to happen. Especially before someone gets really injured or even killed by this dangerous crime.”

Allen told KOIN 6 News the agency is taking this trend seriously as gas theft incidents can become very dangerous for both criminals and victims.

“Gas theft is a very unique and kind of alarming crime, not just because it’s really inconvenient if you get your car and there’s no gas in it, but gas is an incredibly dangerous substance,” Allen said. “It’s flammable, explosive, even. It’s heavy, hard to carry, and it’s poisonous. So, we’re certainly concerned that we’re seeing more of this.”

Allen warned the public not to confront a gas thief while in the act as they may be concealing a weapon and could be dangerous. 

While police can’t say for sure what is driving the increase in gas theft-related crimes, Allen said high pump prices and short staffing among law enforcement are likely contributing factors.

“Anytime there is a commodity that is more expensive, that increases the motivation for people to steal it,” Allen stated. “Gasoline is kind of falling into the same category, or at least it has been over the last couple of months with the increase in prices. A lot of people have a vehicle, and they need fuel to make it run, so people might be more motivated to commit crimes.”