A SURGE in petty offences by people desperate for quick cash has pushed the crime rate up this year. Senior Assistant Commissioner (Crime and Security) Tsang Yam-pui said 'quick-cash crimes' included shoplifting, pickpocketing and miscellaneous theft. He said most petty crime was by gangs from overseas. 'When these small syndicates come to Hong Kong they will shoplift, pickpocket and steal unattended handbags. 'The offences committed by illegal immigrants and two-way permit holders [on crime holidays] are also on the increase.' Mr Tsang said the force was now looking to step up intelligence against the gangs and strengthen co-operation between Hong Kong and China. According to the latest figures, the crime rate increased by 4.8 per cent to 23,473 between January and September compared with the same period in 1994. Pickpocketing was the biggest growth area with 742 offenders detected, a jump of 27 per cent over the same nine-month period in 1994. The number of shop thefts and miscellaneous thefts rose by 15.5 per cent to 5,291. The number of rape cases increased by almost 27 per cent to 33, compared with 26 in 1994. But Mr Tsang said there was an 'improvement' in crime compared with the first half of the year when offences rose by nine per cent compared with the same period in 1994. He expressed concern over recent well-publicised murder cases, but said these incidents were isolated and no cause for alarm. The number of murders recorded in the first nine months this year dropped to 59 from 67 in the same period in 1994. However, the number of serious drugs offences went up from 1,290 cases in the second quarter to 1,537 cases in the third quarter. He said the increase was the result of greater police enforcement, arrests and prosecutions.