Australians dabble with crime as cost of living bites

People are resorting to crime for the first time as cost-of-living pressures and high interest rates leave households under the pump.

Offending across Victoria has increased again in the 12 months to March, the latest crime statistics revealed on Thursday.

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

someone at petrol pump
The cost of living has increased the incidence of petrol theft, police say. (Flavio Brancaleone/AAP PHOTOS)

However as rents and mortgage rates climb, so too have theft offences, with 50 per cent of offenders first-time shop stealers, acting deputy commissioner Brett Curran said.

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

"People are potentially more desperate to get food," 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.

The data was concerning but not surprising, Australian Retailers Association chief industry affairs officer Fleur Brown said.

Retailers across the country and internationally are experiencing similar trends.

trolley of food
"People are potentially more desperate to get food," acting deputy commissioner Brett Curran says. (Jane Dempster/AAP PHOTOS)

The increases in thefts were driven by co-ordinated organised crime but correlated with the cost-of-living crunch, with stolen goods resold, she said.

"Retail crime has been one of the most intense pressures that retailers have been experiencing - and their teams," she told AAP.

"You've got the slowdown in consumer spending, which is natural in this economy, coupled with the rising cost of doing business, and retail crime is an element of that rising cost."

Family violence also remains a major issue with officers responding to one incident every six minutes in Victoria, a record high in the 12 months to March.

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

Child and youth crime has continued to rise. The number of offenders in the 15 to 17 age cohort in the 12-month period has risen by almost 25 per cent to 15,495.

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

A file photo of Anthony Carbines
Victorian Police Minister Anthony Carbines has conceded young offenders pose a challenge. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

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

"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.

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

Opposition crime prevention spokesman Brad Battin accused the government of minimising the issue of youth crime.

"Why aren't we utilising the systems we've got to ensure we can put the services, or use the punishments we've got, to make sure these people are kept off the street?" he said.

Youth justice legislation introduced to parliament on Tuesday included 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.