More sexual offences were recorded in Bedford over the last year, amid a record high number of such crimes across England and Wales.
Bedfordshire Police recorded 462 incidents of sexual offences in Bedford in the 12 months to December, according to the Office for National Statistics.
That was an increase of 17% compared to the previous year.
At 2.6 crimes per 1,000 people, that was in line with the rate across England and Wales, which stood at 3.1.
Detective Chief Superintendent Dee Perkins said: “Offences which in their nature threaten women and girls are taken extremely seriously by Bedfordshire Police, and there is no place for sexual offences in our society. Such crimes can cause alarm, distress and ultimately cause victims to feel unsafe and have no place in Bedfordshire.
“As a force we are committed to tackling these offences and to increase our rate of bringing offenders to justice. We are also passionate about victim care and ensuring that anyone who bravely comes forward to report a sexual offence is offered specialist support.
“On Friday (May 6) we launched Project Firefly in Bedford town centre, which has reshaped the way our officers carry out night-time patrols. With specialist training officers will focus on that early intervention, spotting those early signs and behaviours of street harassment and challenging them before they can escalate.
“It’s important that anyone who witnesses sexual or threatening behaviour of this kind reports it to the police. We treat all reports with the utmost importance and are committed to pursuing perpetrators to make our streets safer.”
The total number of offences in Bedford fell by 1%, with police recording 14,556 crimes over the course of the year.
This puts the overall crime rate at 83.3 per 1,000 people, compared to a national average of 85.5.
Other crimes recorded in Bedford included:
5,410 violent offences, a rise of 11%
4,595 theft offences, down 15%
1,380 incidents of criminal damage and arson, down 4%
106 possession of weapons such as firearms or knives, up 13%
1,620 public order offences, up 11%
Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity Victim Support, said she was "seriously concerned" by the latest figures.
She added: “Sadly, these figures reflect what we’re seeing – the number of sexual violence cases referred to us have increased by a third since before the pandemic.
“We also know that court delays for victims of sexual violence are at an all-time high – this is a worrying combination."
The ONS said the latest statistics may reflect a number of factors, including the “impact of high-profile incidents, media coverage and campaigns on people’s willingness to report incidents to the police, as well as a potential increase in the number of victims”.
It said the overall number of crimes recorded were lower during lockdowns but that there were “substantial increases" from April 2021, with certain offence types returning to or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
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