BANGOR, Maine — Violent crime has spiked this summer in the city, highlighted by the brutal homicide of a teenage girl last month, but Police Chief Ron Gastia said it doesn’t necessarily mean Bangor is less safe.
“One thing I stressed is that in most of the crimes we’re seeing, the victim knew the assailant,” Gastia said Wednesday, referring to a presentation he made to the city’s government operations committee on Tuesday. “But certainly some of these incidents have raised red flags.”
Over an 11-day stretch in August, there were five aggravated assaults in Bangor involving knives, one of which resulted in the death of 19-year-old Holly Boutilier. In addition, there have been 27 robberies in the city this year through Aug. 31. At the same point last year, there were only 14. In the three-month stretch between June 1 and Aug. 31, there were 15 robberies, compared to five during the same period in 2008.
Councilor Hal Wheeler, chairman of the government operations committee, requested the presentation from Gastia and called the discussion both eye-opening and sobering.
“I felt in view of the high incidence of violent crimes, the people needed to hear from the police chief,” Wheeler explained.
The reasons for the increase in some crimes are predictable, Gastia said. Poor economic conditions always produce more property crimes, such as theft. The factors contributing to violent crimes are harder to pin down, the chief said, but he said three methadone clinics, more than 200 registered sex offenders and a high rate of homelessness in Bangor don’t help.
“My presentation wasn’t meant to scare [councilors] or the public. It was meant to be informational,” he said. “I think it’s helpful for everyone to know what we’re up against.”
The chief’s presentation on Tuesday tied directly into a recent request that four new officer positions be authorized under a federal grant program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The City Council has not made a decision on whether to approve Gastia’s request, but has until Oct. 28.
One of the most interesting statistics Gastia gave, according to Wheeler, was the number of police calls from 2000 through this year. In 2000, officers responded to approximately 22,000 calls. For the 12-month period from August 2008 through August 2009, that number was more than 32,000. In that time, the department hasn’t increased in size.
“They are doing an amazing job considering the amount of territory they have to cover,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he hopes to have Gastia brief the council quarterly on incidents to “help us help him.”