People are entering "survival mode" as they struggle with the financial impact of Covid-19, Bay of Plenty advocates say.
One Bay lawyer says the hardship caused by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and job losses have led to an increase in the number of people seeking counsel for crimes such as shoplifting.
Police say there has been the odd "blip" in people committing petty crimes out of desperation but, overall, crime is down post-Covid-19.
Defence lawyer Rebekah Webby, who works across Tauranga, Rotorua and Waihi, said she had seen an increase in first-time offenders post-Covid, particularly in the realms of and alcohol- and drug-related crime.
The most common crimes were shoplifting and drink driving, she said.
She had also seen a rise in first-time offending by women, particularly in the age range of 30 to 40.
Nearly all of those she spoke to had been flung into bad financial situations post-Covid and were acting out of desperation, she said.
"People have lost houses, jobs and can end up living in their cars. They can be secure then all of a sudden lose it all. They are acting in survival mode."
Webby, who is also a member of the Pay It Forward Tauranga group, said she had seen a significant increase in people asking for clothes, food and money following lockdown.
Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said they were seeing the odd "blip" of people committing petty crimes out of what could be "desperation".
However, there had been a general decrease in crime post-Covid overall.
Police were aware that many people had been put in vulnerable positions as a result of Covid-19 but they could not be certain these crimes were a direct result of this, he said.
NZME requested NZ Police figures but were told to apply for this under the Official Information Act to ensure they were accurate.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said crime was an act of "desperation" in many cases and this was particularly true in current times.
He said this did not surprise him as the "brunt of the impact" of lockdown was just starting to hit for many and resorting to crime may seem like the only option for them.
"Many of these people have never even been involved with police before."
Billy Macfarlane, who leads a Pūwhakamua tikanga programme in Rotorua helping offenders change their ways, said the majority of people involved in the criminal justice system were simply "survivors".
He said they had got themselves up on petty-crime charges as a result of resorting to burglary due to being "broke and poor" and they were acting for the sake of survival.
"People do things out of character in times of desperation."
He said it was particularly women who were "true survivors" and he knew that some committed crime just to put food on the table for their children.
He said many had been thrust to the "bottom of the societal ladder" and were doing their best.
"Now more than ever, we need to team together not throw stones."
He said some of these people "have always struggled and will continue to struggle unless more work is done to help them".
The community needed to not "point fingers and do nothing" but instead share and offer help wherever possible, he said.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Service director Tommy Wilson said communication between agencies had improved post-Covid and this enabled them to provide wraparound support for a person before they were driven to break the law.
"We predicted there would be doom and gloom but that has not been the case. We are defusing potential problems before they start."
As a whole, workers on the frontline were a lot happier with what they were seeing post-Covid than what was expected, he said.
Rotorua defence lawyer Rob Vigor-Brown said he had seen an increase in first-time offenders but he did not believe there was any direct link to Covid.
He said instead it came back to the region's growing drug addiction problem.
This had many first-time offenders coming in on serious charges straight off the bat, while many were suffering addictions as a result of their own "unresolved demons", he said.
Pakanui Tuhura, service manager at Rotorua Budget Advisory Service, said people who had fallen on hard times should visit their local branch as the staff were trained to provide advice and support for ongoing solutions specific to their clients.
"We may even identify strengths and opportunities that the client has overlooked and if asked can also advocate with creditors on behalf of our clients."