A CHRISTMAS crackdown on crime in Darlington town centre has won praise from retailers.

Police launched Operation Samba at the end of last month, targeting people committing crimes including shoplifting and handbag and purse snatches.

Plain clothes officers have been mingling with Christmas shoppers, and working with uniformed officers and shop security staff to identify suspects.

Scores of arrests have been made by police, who hope the operation will drive thieves out of the town centre.

Retailers have been able to help themselves in the effort to cut crime, thanks to Darlington's Crime Net system, which allows shops to communicate details of known offenders to each other by radio.

Albion Small, manager of the Cornmill Shopping Centre and president of Darlington Chamber of Trade, said he had received positive reports about Operation Samba.

"It appears to be more successful than in previous years because of the diligence of the police involved," he said.

"Shoplifting, in particular, is always a big problem at Christmas, but with the police and Crime Net we are very well organised in Darlington to tackle it. Hopefully, it will remain relatively crime-free in the run-up to Christmas because of the work that is going on."

Kevin Woods, manager of Boyes, one of Darlington's biggest retailers, said the company was keen to work with police.

"I am sure the police operation does make a difference in reducing crime levels," he said.

Sergeant David Turner, of Darlington police, said: "Officers are dedicated to dealing with shoplifting in the town centre and other forms of retail crime. We have also been paying particular attention to the Christmas markets operating at the moment.

"If the operation can dissuade criminals from coming into the town centre, we can then use our policing resources in other ways. So far we have been bringing people into the cells as a result of the operation, so it is obviously working."

Anyone with crime information can telephone police on (01325) 467681 or Crimestoppers on (0800) 555111.