THE use of mobile CCTV units to help identify and convict offenders is to be stepped up as it was revealed assaults in Darlington town centre soared by almost a third last year.

Such is the mounting concern over the sharp rise in attacks in the heart of the borough, despite multi-agency efforts to make the area feel safe through measures such as a Public Space Protection Order, that Durham Constabulary has made violence in the town centre a priority, a Darlington Borough Council meeting has heard.

Graham Hall, the authority’s head of community safety, told the meeting five more mobile CCTV systems, sponsored by the council and crime reduction partnership, would be directed towards “areas of need” in the town in a bid to increase the crime detection rate of 23 per cent across the borough and 31 per cent in the town centre.

He said crime in Darlington town centre had seen a “considerable” rise of 24 per cent over the past year, with reported violent incidents rising to 593, a 31 per cent increase. He said most of the incidents did not result in injuries, that alcohol was often a factor and the victims and offenders were usually aged 20 to 30 years old.

In response, councillors were told the authority was working with bars in an effort to limit drunken fights, but Mr Hall said a recent trend had seen security staff being assaulted after asking people to leave bars.

He added while sexual offences in the town centre had risen by 187 per cent over the last year, from 15 to 43, there was no pattern to it.

Mr Hall said while the number of people being found in possession of weapons had risen by 91 per cent to 21, much of it related to intelligence received by the police and stop-search.

He said: “All agencies are continuing to monitor weapons, because that is a grave concern.

“In terms of violence, this is now a Durham Constabulary priority in Darlington town centre. You will see dedicated resources committed to Darlington town centre from all of the various commands.”

Councillors told the meeting many residents did not feel safe in the town centre and wanted more action.

Park East councillor Libby McCollom said: “Demonstrably it must be shown that more is being done. People think the town centre is not safe and in this perception is reality. We need to do everything we can to try and address this.”

After the meeting, the authority’s community safety portfolio holder Councillor Jonathan Dulston said he was pressing police to push more resources into tackling town centre crime.

He said: “We are taking the rise in violence against people very seriously. We have to be adaptable to what is happening and the mobile CCTV units will allow us to deploy them to hotspots.

“This is about detection. We understand there are crimes that are hard to detect, but if 80 per cent of crimes are going unsolved, that’s not a good place to be.”