FIREBUGS are wreaking havoc across the district, with arson offences more than tripling in Echuca and up by 51 per cent in Campaspe Shire.
The most recent crime statistics have shown arson offences jumped from five in 2015 to 22 last year in Echuca and 29 to 44 across the shire.
Campaspe police Inspector Geoff Owen agreed the latest figures have become a worrying trend for the whole community.
‘‘Arson is always a concern given the potential for significant damage if the fire was to spread,’’ he said.
‘‘In the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fire seasons, we have had a series of suspicious grass fires on the eastern side of the shire over near Tongala and Kyabram. We believe both these seasons’ series of fires are connected.
‘‘Detectives have several lines of inquiry they are following and we have persons of interest who are being followed up on.’’
In Echuca, there had also been smaller fires in public rubbish bins, fences and stolen vehicles, which Insp. Owen said were quickly extinguished without causing too much damage.
‘‘We also had instances of stolen cars that were set on fire at Rushworth and Gunbower,’’ he said.
The figures, released last week by the Crime Statistics Agency, also showed a massive 209 per cent jump in sexual offences across the shire, from 79 in 2015 to 244 last year.
However, Insp. Owen said that was related to Melbourne’s Sex Crime Squad charging an Echuca man with 236 counts of (mainly historical) sexual offences in April 2016.
They included grooming, internet and telecommunication offences.
‘‘This one off spike accounts for the drastic increase,’’ he said.
‘‘Prior to that spike, sex offence data is relatively stable. Sex offending is also a sub data set of crimes against the person hence this increase will also be felt in the overall crimes against the person data.’’
Crimes against people jumped by 44 per cent in Echuca, from 285 to 409.
Despite this, Insp. Owen said fewer assaults were occurring in the central business district on Friday and Saturday nights which had previously been a serious cause of assault data.
‘‘This I put down to the better behaviour of patrons, installation of ID scanners at some licensed venues and increased CCTV at licensed venues,’’ he said.
‘‘More focused and proactive policing at these trouble times has seen a decrease over time.
‘‘Assaults (non-family violence) is occurring ad hoc, away from the CBD with offenders known to each other.
‘‘There are still CBD street assaults, but we are seeing less alcohol-affected persons on the street Friday and Saturday nights and the accompanying decrease in anti-social behaviour.’’
In other figures, drug dealing and trafficking offences jumped by 44 per cent in Echuca and 7.4 per cent across Campaspe.
‘‘An increase in this crime set is a very good thing as it shows that more people are being arrested for drug crimes,’’ he said.
‘‘Campaigns like Dob in a Dealer and people providing police information either directly or through Crime Stoppers is being acted upon and arrests are being made.’’
There has also been an 11 per cent drop in disorderly conduct offences and a 22 per cent jump in prosecuting breaches of intervention orders.
‘‘We are taking a hard line on those who breach family violence protection orders and putting them before court to be held accountable,’’ Insp. Owen said.