Addicts stealing to buy drugs is the main cause of shoplifting in Hartlepool, according to a community safety experts.
The Safer Hartlepool Partnership heard a study was being carried out in to the impact of increasing levels of theft in the town and the potential impact of Universal Credit.
A Safer Hartlepool task group has carried out the work which has involved analysing crime figures and interviews with offenders - finding that shoplifting was, in many cases, drug-related, rather than stealing due to hunger.
Rachel Parker, community safety team leader, said: “Shoplifting remains the offence of choice for our most prolific offenders. The majority were to fund a drug problem not for food.
“The data also reveals that acquisitive crime in Hartlepool was increasing before the introduction of Universal Credit and has continued to increase since.”
Universal Credit was introduced in the borough in December 2016 and the data collected stretches from April 2015 to March 2018.
The study found the most common type of acquisitive crime is shoplifting but there was also significant increases in residential burglary and vehicle crime.
The study found shop owners could often be repeat victims of crime.
Chief inspector Nigel Burnell of Cleveland Police said to clamp down on shoplifting officers are looking to work to reduce the number of people with drug and alcohol problems.
He said: “National studies suggest half of acquisitive crime is due to drug issues.
“Acquisitive crime is one of those things that never stops.
“There is a lot of work going on around drug and alcohol issues in the area.
“If that’s the drive behind the crime then it’s about what are we going to do about it.
“We need to focus on what we can do and that’s what problem solving is about.”
He also said he will be meeting with health bosses to work together to help people with substance issues.
Ms Parker also said the study into the impact of Universal Credit on acquisitive crime will continue after the initial findings.
She said: “It has not been possible to establish a clear link between acquisitive crime trends and Universal Credit in Hartlepool.
“However, what has been apparent is that the factors leading to this high rate of acquisitive crime are complex and that further research is required to investigate these further.”
Nic Marko , Local Democracy Reporting Service