Robbery and theft rates are falling much faster in Sydney than rural NSW, crime figures reveal.
Higher unemployment and economic instability in the bush have contributed to the large gap between city and country crime rates, said the state's leading crime researcher, Don Weatherburn.
"Young people's choices [in the country] are pretty stark when they leave the family. They either get a job or look for illegal entertainment where they are," Dr Weatherburn said.
"I think the real problem is the economic and social disadvantages in parts of regional NSW."
The rate of theft in Sydney fell 62 per cent over the 12 years to 2012 but as little as 6 per cent in some parts of rural NSW.
Robberies fell 71 per cent in Sydney but only 22 per cent in the state's northern region, which takes in Inverell, Narrabri and Glen Innes.
Crime rates increased in some rural areas, the report from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, released on Monday, showed.
Dr Weatherburn said a heroin shortage at Christmas in the year 2000 led to dramatic drops in crime in Sydney but would not have had as much impact on crime in rural areas.
"The falls in crime have been much more substantial in urban areas than in regional and remote parts of NSW," Dr Weatherburn, the bureau's director, said.
"Police and criminal justice agencies must balance the need to meet demands for service in highly populated areas with the need to respond to crime in sparsely populated areas where the residents are at risk."
The Illawarra and Sydney registered dramatic drops in motor vehicle theft - falls of 76.8 and 74.8 per cent respectively - while northern NSW experienced an increase of 15.8 per cent.
Robbery rates rose by 21 per cent in the Murray region and 9.8 per cent on the mid-north coast between 2000 and 2012. The Murray, Murrumbidgee, northern, north-west, Hunter and central west regions all experienced increases in stealing from a retail store. This compared with an average drop of 8.5 per cent across the state.
Stealing from a motor vehicle rose 5.9 per cent in the Murrumbidgee compared with a 63.7 per cent fall in Sydney over the 12 years.
Mr Weatherburn said the imbalance between crime rates in the city and the bush showed the need for government to focus on crime-prone areas rather than reducing overall levels of crime.
He said stimulating rural economies would help to reduce crime but increased policing would not necessarily have an impact.