A dramatic drop in crime in Belfast city centre has been recorded this Christmas.
Levels of shoplifting and thefts of vehicles and bicycles have fallen as Belfast plunged into sub-zero temperatures.
A total of 23 arrests were made between November 29 and December 18, mostly for theft but also disorderly behaviour. Another 555 people received warnings for traffic and minor offences.
City centre police area commander chief inspector Robert Murdie said: “Sales are actually up in Belfast. You are not getting the reduced numbers we expected with the weather. This is the time of year for criminals; they will seek an opportunity despite the weather.”
He said people should not leave presents in the car or exposed in bags.
The senior officer added: “We have to build on this now. This shows the effectiveness of putting resources into the city centre.”
The number of shoplifting offences fell to 36 compared with 56 during the same period last Christmas. Crimes in general dropped from 161 to 126 this year. Thefts from vehicles have also reduced.
In the early hours of Friday morning a CCTV security camera operator saw a man lying on the pavement near a shop entrance in the Waring Street area. An ambulance was called and the man was taken to hospital with suspected hypothermia. He could have died if he had not been noticed.
Police have made more than 1,000 visits to retailers to issue crime prevention advice. Additional officers have been brought in from office duties to patrol.
A spokesman for Belfast City Centre Management Company congratulated the police.
A seven-year-old system helps retailers identify shoplifters and fraudsters through an offender photo album in each participating store. If a person commits a shoplifting offence they will be served with an exclusion order for one year. Their image may be distributed to the rest of the retailers in the Crimewatch membership who will exclude them from entry.
More than 4,000 offenders have been caught since 2005 and over 50% of the North's shopping centres support this scheme.
Tom Smith, city safe officer, said: “Knowing the thieves and stopping them from entering has been very successful.”