Salt Lake police officers working the larceny squad have gas problems. About 130 times a month.

That's how often local retailers report that a customer filled up his tank and drove away without paying for the gasoline.How do the officers spell relief? DO-IT-YOURSELF INVESTIGATION.

Larceny Detective David Greer has proposed to his superiors that the police department no longer take "failure to pay" gasoline cases until after the victimized business has completed its own in-house investigation.

"What we're asking for is that we put some of the responsibility back on the retailer because we're inundated."

Greer said patrol officers spend a great deal of time writing police reports on gas thefts and his five-member larceny squad spends a great deal of time following up on them.

And prosecuting gas thefts is a near-impossible task because of the difficulty in proving that the offender intentionally drove away without paying.

"We feel like we are being used as a collection agency for the retailers and that they are not taking any steps to prevent crime."

The gas-theft problems could be solved if the stores would take a preventive posture, such as requiring customers to pay for the gas before putting it in their cars, Greer said.

But Salt Lake retailers oppose the idea, fearing it would cut into their sales. "They're afraid that the customer will come in, pay for the gas and that's all he'll buy."

So Greer believes the in-house investigation is the answer. The Phoenix Police Department has been doing it for several years. "The police down there rarely, if ever, have to investigate a gas theft anymore."

Under the proposed policy, if a clerk or someone sees a motorist drive off without paying for gas, the witness will give the license number or name of the motorist to the company's investigator. The investigator, using public Motor Vehicle records, can attempt to locate the motorist.

If the motorist can be identified by the witnesses and denies taking the gas or refuses to reimburse, then the investigator can report it to the police for follow-up.

The proposed policy would eliminate a lot of work for the larceny squad, which would like to devote more time to daytime thefts in downtown businesses, shoplifting rings and the growing problem of aluminum thefts, Greer said.