Police poised to pounce on perps at petrol stations

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2014

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Next time you go to fill up your car, it could cost you more than the gas.

Mufti police cars are lying in wait at Christchurch petrol station forecourts, using their smart devices to check motorists for expired warrants of fitness, registrations and other offences while they fill up.

Transgressors were either followed onto the road or approached at the pump.

Petrol station managers across the city yesterday said the tactic was being employed on their forecourts several times a month. One said leading up to Christmas, an unmarked police car was there every day.

While it could deter customers, "they certainly are helpful if we have a drive-off," one manager said.

Police made no apologies for the practice, saying it showed they could be "anywhere, anytime".

As well as infringements, they regularly picked up stolen vehicles, disqualified drivers and petrol drive-offs.

"It makes good sense to be proactive in high density areas," Acting Inspector Corrie Parnell said.

Motorists have caught on, however, and started warning each other on social media. They post on Facebook about mufti cars "hiding" among trailers or beside a car wash.

Canterbury man Blake Hazeldine, 27, was caught by police early one morning last July.

"As I was hanging up the [pump] handle I heard someone call out my name."

It was a plain clothes police officer, who showed his badge.

"He said, ‘Are you planning on getting a warrant or rego anytime soon?' He sent me a ticket in the mail about a week later. I was pretty gutted."

A Mobil petrol station owner said she wanted dangerous cars off the road, but the tactic "scares off my customers a bit". Even her own staff would text friends to say, "don't come in, the cops are here", she said.

Another BP manager said police had asked for his permission to use the forecourt, and he gave it freely.

"We know they're doing it for a good reason. Why should I pay my rego and warrant and that guy doesn't? If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about."

The Canterbury and Tasman road policing units shared a vehicle with an Automatic Number Plate Recognition camera, which scanned for stolen cars and "vehicles of interest", police said.

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