Gas station owners fuming over lack of police response to armed robberies

Only hours after a gas station attendant was stabbed by a disgruntled customer Monday, police attending the Knesset Interior Committee refused to address gas station violence as a specific phenomenon. Gas company owners, police representatives and members of the committee met Monday to discuss the phenomenon that police deny even exists. Gas companies presented data that indicated an increase in the number and severity of violence at gas stations, with 50 cases of robbery and attack reported since the beginning of the year - over half of which were armed robbery. The Oil Companies Union estimated that this was an increase of approximately 30% from the same period last year, said Union Dir.-Gen. Yael Danieli. Police data indicated, however, that gas station robberies constituted 3.5% of all instances of theft in 2007, and, according to Ch.-Supt. Tal Elimelech, a police data analyst, only 44 gas station robberies had occurred since the beginning of the year. "From our perspective, there is no such phenomenon," said Dep.-Cmdr. Avi Shushan of the Israel Police's security department. "The police response to the situation is the standing order to increase the regular patrols at gas stations." In response to the police claims, Oren Lotan, the "Paz" gas company's manager of gas stations and stores said that "we pointed out the phenomenon to the police when it began over a half year ago when customers started 'running away' without paying." Furthermore, gas company representatives complained that in many cases, complaints submitted to the police were eventually closed due to "lack of public interest." "People are afraid to pump their gas at night. This is not simply a question of money, but of lives," said Mati Yitzhak, the chairman of the gas station managers' committee. "In addition, many stations have stopped complaining to the police because they don't respond. The violence at the gas stations makes it hard to find employees, and newly-released soldiers are afraid to work at gas stations as part of their 'preferred work'." Currently, six months of work as a gas station attendant entitles newly-released soldiers to a one-time "preferred work" monetary grant. MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima), who called for the meeting, blasted police for their response. "We know all about these statistical games and the definitions of "robbery" and "attack." "To address the issue, the police must first recognize the phenomenon. The discussion is being held because there is a great deal of general interest. Only this morning we heard about an attendant who was stabbed while working. This is a phenomenon that is becoming more and more serious, and the police don't even recognize it as existing." Plessner called on the police and the gas companies to establish a forum for cooperation to formulate a plan for addressing instances of violence at gas stations and to submit that plan to the Interior Committee. Although the meeting was scheduled long before the incident, it followed shortly after a 17-year-old customer stabbed a gas station attendant overnight in Rehovot. The attendant was hospitalized in moderate condition after suffering a stab wound to his upper torso. Police apprehended the suspected attacker shortly thereafter and determined that he was intoxicated. Officers also recovered a knife which was in his possession. A preliminary investigation concluded that the motive for the attack was an argument over NIS 20, which, according to the suspect, got stuck in the cigarette machine.