A campaign to “repair the undeserved reputation of Watford” by cracking down on alcohol-fuelled violent crime has seen the number of incidents fall just two months after it was launched.

Since the beginning of August, police officers have been sent into the town centre from about 8pm to turn away any visitors judged to have “pre-loaded” - drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at home or on the way into Watford before visiting its bars and nightclubs.

They are challenged by officers, who can seize alcohol and hand out section 27 notices to temporarily ban someone from the area.

If they ignore the ban, they will be arrested.

Sergeant Dan Stoddart said: “We found those people [“pre-loaders”] were the ones we were picking up off the streets at 2am and were the victims or perpetrators of crime.

“So far 40 section 27 notices have been given out and two people arrested for ignoring it. Early indications show that when officers are deployed from 8pm, there is a significant reduction in violent crime. It would seem we have had as many as 45 less offences in August and September.”

The operation was launched following the creation of All Together Watford, a group made up police officers, doormen, pub watch, fire brigade, councillors and the council's licensing team earlier this year.

Its aim was to respond to the rise in violent crime in the town centre seen before Christmas 2009, when rates of between 25 and 30 incidents each month rose by an additional eight incidents.

Sgt Stoddart said: “This led to a greater burden on police and had a knock-on effect on the reputation of Watford as a place to enjoy a safe night out.”

The town centre is visited by up to 8,000 people every Friday and Saturday night, which equates to one in 1,000 people becoming a victim, witness or perpetrator of alcohol-related crime, members of the group were told at a meeting on Friday evening.

“Does Watford have a massive problem – we thought not,” Sgt Stoddart said. “What we did realise was Watford has a reputation problem of being a pit of disorder triggered by binge drinking and violent disorder.”

Police officers have now increased their use of CCTV, “safe havens” have been created for taxi drivers who have encountered trouble, while pocket maps of Watford are handed out with safety information.

Drug detectors are also used in the town centre, while there is a greater emphasis on sharing information with the Metropolitan Police.

Sgt Stoddart added: “We're all working together in the run-up to Christmas to make sure a similar increase in crime does not sneak up on us this year like it did last year.

“As part of the long-term plan of improving the reputation of Watford, the last few months have been the beginning and we're probably looking at many years.”

Jeffrey Lieb, licensing manager at Watford Borough Council, also used the All Together Watford meeting to reveal “radical” changes to the council's licensing policy, which come into force in January.

The council will now “actively encourage” restaurants to open in the town centre, while discouraging new bars and pubs.

Mr Lieb said: “We know there are lots of residents who don't come into Watford because of the reputation it has and the market it attracts so we are encouraging restaurants and discouraging pubs and clubs.

“It's quite a radical change in what we're encouraging and it's being quite explicit about what kind of operations the council intends to licence in the future.”

Under the new policy, restaurants will be allowed to open until 2am, nightclubs until 1am and pubs until 12am. However, some businesses may be able to open later if they agree to certain conditions, such as offering waiter service only after a certain time.