For the past 13 years, Riaz Ahmad, co-owner of NSR Petrol in Greenbelt, has endured rising gas taxes and a recession to build a chain of 24 gas stations across Prince George’s, but legislation aimed at making his stations safer is making him question if he wants to continue doing business in the county.
The County Council was scheduled to hold a second reading on Tuesday of legislation adding safety requirements for all county gas stations and any convenience stores that operate between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. such as mandatory employee safety training and installation of a drop safe near a merchant’s cash register.
The measure, sponsored by council members Eric Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park and Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro, aims to increase safety at overnight locations that can be a target for criminals, Olson said.
“There are things that should help prevent robberies and should help catch people who commit them,” Olson said. “If people feel they might get caught it might serve as a deterrent.”
The legislation would impact about 300 businesses spread across the county, according to Craig Howard, deputy chief of the county police. County police are backing the bill as an analysis by the police department found that about 414 robberies, or about 20 percent, of all the 2,078 commercial robberies that occurred between 2007 and 2012 occurred during the overnight period between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to county police documents.
As of July 2, 16 or about 17 percent of the 91 reported commercial robberies in the county this year occurred during the overnight period, according to police documents.
“This would help them to be good partners to us,” Howard said. “We feel this is solid legislation.”
While station owners support the idea of increasing safety for stations, some of the bill’s requirements come at a heavy cost for the station operators, said Kirk McCauley, a spokesman for the Washington Maryland Delaware of Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, which is opposing the bill. In particular, the bill’s requirement that businesses have at least three high-resolution cameras as well as recording equipment to aid police in identifying criminals after a crime could cost between $3,000 to $5,000 a store, McCauley said.
“I can’t say any store would close, but some of these stations are making very little money. There’s a lot of competition,” McCauley said. “A small business owner is going to take a lot of that out of their pocket.”
Ahmad said the upgrades would cost as much $100,000 for all 24 of his stations.
“Doing business or bringing new businesses to the county will be difficult. Why would we make [a business] or expand in this county, which is making life difficult for us?” he said. “The people who work for us, they’re on the frontline. We care about them, but at the same time it has to be friendly legislation.”
County statistics for robberies and crimes at area gas stations and convenience stores were not immediately available as of press time.
Ahmad’s stores have been the victim of robberies in the past. However none of them have been solved and he wasn’t sure how having high-definition photos of the culprits or their vehicles would aid officers much if the crimes seem to be low priority, he said.
Government leaders recognized the cost of the legislation, which is why the bill gives business owners a year to three years to complete the upgrades, Olson said. Should businesses not be in compliance with the regulations they face escalating fines up to $1,000 and the potential of losing their occupancy permit, according to the legislation.
“I understand there are businesses that want minimum regulation, but government’s role is to make sure appropriate regulations are in place for the public’s health, safety and welfare,” Olson said.