Shoplifting, criminal or anti-social activity was down by nearly 25 per cent last year and 40pc on the figure for 2005. As a result, the town centre had become a safer place to visit and do business, Chief Superintendent Andy Frost, of Bedfordshire Police, told the Bedford SME Breakfast Club.

Speaking at the Park Inn, Mr Frost told his audience of company directors and consultants that PCSOs were financed by a central government grant that required that 25pc was matched by a contribution from elsewhere. In Bedford town centre, that contribution came from the BedfordBID, the organisation which represents 800 businesses in the town who have funded four of the PCSOs.

In effect the BedfordBID contribution meant four extra CSPOs were on the beat, Mr Frost said.

BedfordBID also finances a retail radio scheme linking police officers, PCSOs, CCTV operators, store detectives and shop managers. The BID also employs Bedford Bluecaps who, as well as meeting and greeting visitors, work with the police to identify potential problems.

Chief Superintendent Frost said that the Bed:Safe scheme, introduced in Bedford before the change in licensing laws meant pubs can stay open all night, had been held up as a national model of good practice in reducing problems among late night drinkers.

Under the Bed:Safe scheme, officers on foot work together with licenced door staff and taxi marshalls on weekend evenings. Bed:Safe also allows licencees to run the a scheme that ensures people banned from one pub or club for bad behaviour are banned from all of the pubs and clubs.

The chief superintendent, who is in charge of policing across Bedfordshire, excluding Luton, wanted his police officers to be able to concentrate on what they do best : thief taking and cut back on bureaucracy and paperwork.

A proposal to give officers state-of-the-art information technology equipment like hand-held Blackberries so they can post reports and use police computer systems from the streets without having to go back to their desk was under consideration, he told his audience. If implemented, it would make officers 50 per cent more effective immediately, he added.

His audience at the Bedford SME Breakfast Club last month applauded the ideas. The club is sponsored by the Bedford Development Agency and Bedford College.

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