CHRISTMAS shoppers in Swindon have been offered reassurance that the town is a safe place to enjoy the festive season after the launch of a new crackdown on crime.

Wiltshire Police is bidding to keep the community and businesses safe by targeting crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre.

Operation Dasher will see officers, PCSOs and special constables carry out high visibility patrols across the town centre and other retail areas until Christmas Eve.

It has worked successfully in previous years by deterring potential offenders and giving shoppers peace of mind.

Shoplifting, criminal damage, drunk and disorderly behaviour are some of the offences that have been stamped out by officers over the years as a result of Operation Dasher.

The police work closely with inSwindon BID and Swindon Borough Council to deliver the operation.

PC Paul Bezzant said: “We’ve noticed a real reduction in these crimes when we’ve done this before.

“We want to stop the crimes from happening and that visual presence in the town centre does result in a real downturn in crime levels.

“I remember we spotted a group involved in pick-pocketing.

“We managed to identify them quite quickly through our patrols as they were jumping from cafe to cafe and looking for unattended bags.

“It’s a great way of identifying the people who could be at risk of crime and then deterring them from stepping over that threshold and committing that crime.

“Some of the figures that have come out in the last few months have indicated that Swindon town centre is a relatively safe place to come and shop and visit.

“We just don’t want to have complacency really and want to maintain our service offering, and improve upon that really.”

PS Richard Fay added: “We anticipate increased footfall in the town centre and out of town retail during the festive period so we have increased our visibility to enforce the message that Swindon is a safe town.

“We want people to be able to go about their Christmas shopping crime-free and to support our businesses so they feel reassured by our presence.”

The operation began yesterday and, within hours, officers had already received positive feedback from Christmas shoppers.

PC Tom Dangerfield said: “We’ve had three or four members of the public thanking us for being around. It makes them feel safer and we’ve had a couple of people reporting stuff to us which is good.

“Our presence alone can make members of the public feel safe.

“Normally we are response officers so we respond to 999 calls.

“This is a different kind of policing for us because we are engaging with the community and, if something does happen around here, we are quick to deploy and help out.”

The team of police have daily briefings with inSwindon BID so that the 98 active businesses can feed back their concerns and officers can target locations and individuals.

The latter organisation runs a system via an app that tells businesses which offenders to watch out for in the town centre.

Councillor Cathy Martyn , Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and public safety, said: “Christmas is a really special time of year and we want our town centre to continue to be an attractive and welcoming place where everyone feels safe.

“Working in partnership with the police means that we can tackle any anti-social behaviour together, more effectively, while our CCTV team can help support the police with any criminal investigations.

“Operation Dasher is a perfect example of how, as partners, we can come together to clamp down on anti-social behaviour in a co-ordinated way. We want everyone to be able to enjoy Christmas.’’

Anita Bellinger from inSwindon BID said: “Christmas is a really important time for Swindon town centre businesses and visitors, so we fully support Operation Dasher.

“We want all visitors to the town centre to have a great experience and feel safe all year round, and especially at Christmas. By having an enhanced police presence and increased intelligence sharing, we can offer greater reassurance and a safer experience for visitors and businesses.

“Our Street Ambassadors are out working with businesses and the community in the town centre 364 days of the year. They run our DaySafe radio network, alongside secure intelligence sharing with retailers. So they will be able to share that knowledge during daily meetings and work with Operation Dasher partners.

“By working in partnership, we can collectively achieve more than we could individually. And inSwindon’s role representing town centre businesses means we’re able to coordinate a service that the businesses wouldn’t have capacity for individually. It’s a great example of partnership power.

“It also provides additional on the ground support for businesses, so they can enjoy the festive season and concentrate on what they do best – creating fantastic goods and services for our community.”