UPDATE 5.30pm: Four times more begging offences have been recorded in Bendigo this year than in the previous nine years combined, signalling a police crackdown on unsociable behaviour in the city.
Crime Statistics Agency data released today showed police recorded 31 instances of begging in the City of Greater Bendigo in 2017. It is an increase of 3000 per cent from the previous 12-month period, when just one offence was recorded.
No begging cases were recorded in 2015 and just seven were noted between 2008 and 2016.
Haven; Home, Safe chief executive officer Ken Marchingo, whose organisation offers homelessness support and low-income assistance, heralded the rise in recorded offences as an sign police officers were attempting to sort genuinely in-need people from those who took advantage of community generosity.
Mr Marchingo said there was a visible increase in begging in Bendigo over the past three years and the occasional incidence of beggars behaving agressively.
He believed police intervention could “deliver [beggars] into the hands of experts”.
“There’s always a need for compassion, respect in those cases,” he said.
“If they are in fact genuine, if they are in fact being charged unfairly, there's a good opportunity to get them to services.”
At a council meeting in March, Mayor Margaret O’Rourke – who pushed for CBD revitalisation during last year’s election campaign – called on the community to report beggars to police.
EARLIER: Begging offences have sky-rocketed in Bendigo, despite a slight drop in the overall crime rate in the region.
The offence rate in the City of Greater Bendigo dropped by 1.71 per cent in the 12 months ending September 2017, from 9273.53 per 100,000 people to 9115.20.
The figures are much better than the previous year, where crime rose 21.13 per cent from 2015 to 2016, but in the nine years since 2008, it has risen by more than 32 per cent.
More than 10,200 offences were recorded in the city in the 12 months, with the majority for breaches of family violence orders.
The biggest spike in crime was from begging, with 31 offences recorded in the 12 months to September this year, up a staggering 3000 per cent from the one offence in the previous 12 months.
Drug offences overall had the biggest decrease, with almost 40 fewer offences, while crimes against the person rose by 2.91 per cent per 100,000 people.
Bendigo police’s recent focus on volume crime seems to have paid off with property and deception offences dropping slightly (0.42 per cent) per 100,000 people.
It’s a far cry from the 24.74 per cent increase the region saw from 2015 to 2016.
Statewide, the number of offences recorded by police dropped 4.9 per cent to 517,118.
For the first time, data on the number of criminal incidents was also released by the Crime Statistics Agency, with 391,153 across Victoria in the 12 months ending September 2017.
Sexual offences increased across the state by almost 18 per cent, while arson decreased by more than 30 per cent.