A NEW burglar-busting police team has been launched in Darlington.

The operation team of five police officers will target known offenders in the town following a spate of crime, particularly thefts from houses, sheds and cars.

They will be questioning people and searching suspects' homes.

The police team was set up in response to an increase in the number of thefts since January this year.

On average, there are 1.5 cars stolen in Darlington every day, three thefts from cars a day and 2.6 burglaries.

These figures, an average over three years, have been falling in Darlington year-on-year. However, there has been an increase since January.

Sergeant Geoff Makepeace is leading a team of four detectives and police constables.

They will be targeting known offenders.

He said: "There has been a blip since January hence the team. We think there are pockets of individuals across the town committing these crimes.

"And we want to make sure the number of thefts continues fall throughout 2005."

Since the operation was launched on Monday, the team has made seven arrests.

In the early hours of yesterday, the team arrested three people for allegedly going out equipped to commit burglary.

The team has also recovered a £750 bicycle, which was stolen from the Fox and Hounds pub in Neasham, near Darlington, about two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The police officers had spotted a young male that they thought was behaving suspiciously, and stopped and questioned him.

The bike was subsequently recovered and will be returned to its owner.

Sgt Makepeace said the public could help the operation by notifying the police of anyone suspicious and taking care of where they park their vehicles.

Anyone who can help the police with information about offenders can telephone 0845 60 60 365.