Crime down in Bangor during 2010

Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 8:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Statewide crime statistics for 2009 that were released recently showing Bangor with the highest crime rate among communities of at least 10,000 people prompted police to examine this year’s statistics. What they found is a change in the trend.

Bangor Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno on Wednesday released year-to-date statistics for 2010 that show property crimes this year compared to the same period last year are actually trending back downward.

Bangor never before released its own statistics unprompted, and Arno admitted that recent media coverage spurred some internal department debate.

“It made sense to put these numbers out now because [2009 numbers] are a little dated,” he said.

From Jan. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2010, property crimes such as robberies, burglaries and thefts all decreased from the same period in 2009, and crime overall decreased by 17 percent.

Earlier this week, the Bangor Daily News reported large spikes in those same property crimes from 2008 to 2009, which pushed the city’s crime rate to 71.6 indexed crimes per 1,000 people in 2009. That was the highest rate in the state and nearly triple the statewide average of 25.34 crimes per 1,000 people.

Anti-casino groups used those numbers to suggest Bangor’s crime rate has been rising steadily since the 2005 arrival of Hollywood Slots, the state’s only gambling facility.

Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!, said the statistics might not prove Hollywood Slots has had a negative impact but he’s not satisfied with public officials’ explanations.

“They only seem to count the number of calls they get to respond to incidents on the casino property, but the problems linked to gambling addiction are much more insidious and harder to determine,” Bailey said.

However, additional data obtained Wednesday from Bangor Police Department showed the city’s crime rate fluctuated up and down in the years prior to 2005, indicating no clear trend. Arno said his department has known that for years and added that, if the 2010 numbers hold true through December, the rate will come back down and 2009 will be an outlier.

“So many things can skew the numbers,” he said. “There were a couple instances where we had 30 and 40 car burglaries at a time. Another element is that our officers saw some increases in 2009 and addressed them. We’ve re-instituted our special enforcement team, which can dedicate more time to neighborhood crimes.”

Police Chief Ron Gastia said earlier this week the increases in property crime were expected for 2009, but he maintained that Hollywood Slots has had little or no effect.

Others have defended Bangor this week.

Bangor City Councilor David Nealley said Bangor is the service center for one of the largest geographic regions of poverty east of the Mississippi River. Add to that a growing drug problem and Bangor has inherited the plight of the entire region, according to Nealley.

“The whole idea to link it to [Hollywood Slots] is bogus,” he said.

George McHale, who is chairman of the state’s Gambling Control Board, said the 2009 crime statistics generated discussion at the panel’s monthly meeting Wednesday. Although the board does not support or oppose any casino initiatives, McHale said, its members agreed neither side should present what he called misleading statistics.

“It’s an insult to Hollywood Slots and to the Bangor Police Department,” McHale said after Wednesday’s meeting in Augusta. “Trying to connect dots that point to Hollywood Slots as the reason for increases in crimes is an impossibility.”

Since 2005, when Hollywood Slots opened, overall crime in Bangor has gone up every year, while the statewide rate has remained steady and communities of Bangor’s size have seen decreases. From 2005 to 2006, Bangor’s crime rate rose from 51.65 to 63.01 per 1,000 residents. In 2008, crime increased to 65.07 per 1,000, and this year the rate eclipsed 70.

However, as far back as 2001 the city’s crime rate was similar to the high reported for 2009.

Since the arrival of Hollywood Slots in 2005, Bangor has seen two additional methadone clinics open and, like every other community, has endured the economic recession.

Arno said that from his perspective, any spikes in crime, especially property crime, can be attributed to the poor economy and the region’s growing drug problem.

“With many of these drug-related crimes, we’re not going to all of a sudden see a reversal,” he said.

For complete Bangor crime statistics dating back to 1991, click here.

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