The painful cost of living and high interest rates are being blamed for growing retail thefts of groceries, alcohol and petrol.

Victoria’s latest crime statistics reveal a 7.9 per cent increase in overall criminal offences in the 12 months to March and a rise in the crime rate.

Victoria Police says crime has gradually increased since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns but has still not reached pre-pandemic levels.

However, as the cost of living and mortgage rates climb, so too have theft offences, with 50 per cent of offenders being first-time shop stealers, Acting Deputy Commissioner Brett Curran said.

Retail store thefts grew by 7635 offences to 29,747 offences overall, with items such as food, groceries and alcohol the prime targets.

“People are potentially more desperate to get food. There’s the pressure there so therefore the way in which they deal with that is to steal,” Mr Curran said.

“As hard as that might be for people, that shouldn’t be their resort to go and steal from a shop.”

The most common type of other theft offences is theft of petrol, which police believe is similarly linked to the cost of living.

Theft from motor vehicles continues to rise, with unlocked cars being hit the most, reaching its highest number since 2017.

With officers responding to one family violence incident every six minutes in Victoria, a record high in the 12 months to March, the issue is also at the top of the force’s list of concerns.

Family violence order breaches remained stable and while most contraventions are in person, police are increasingly concerned about tech-facilitated offending.

And child and youth crime continues to rise, which Mr Curran said was no surprise to police.

A core group of repeat offenders were committing more serious and violent crimes including robberies, aggravated burglaries, and car thefts predominantly in the east and outer-southeast suburbs, Mr Curran said.

However, they only represent 0.4 per cent of the Victorian population aged under 18 who have gone through the justice system.

Notoriety is a factor in children aged between 10 to 17 committing the crimes.

“There are kids doing this to show off to their friends,” Mr Curran said.

“They use various platforms, ironically, some of them are very happy, while they’re not named in the media, for people to know that they’ve been in the media.”

Youth gangs have also diminished with 91 fewer members than in 2020.

Cost of living pinch could be affecting young criminals, with figures pointing to a concerning shift where 80 per cent of cigarette robberies are committed by those under 18 and 40 per cent of those are by the core group of offenders.

“They’ve moved their offending over to that which is not so much a notoriety offence as a money-making venture.”

Police Minister Anthony Carbines said the offender rate was relatively flat but conceded young lawbreakers were posing a challenge.

Youth justice legislation, introduced this week, includes a two-year electronic monitoring trial for up to 50 repeat teenage offenders on bail and would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

Source: AAP