MACHIAS, Maine — The latest report by the Maine Department of Public Safety shows law enforcement agencies in Washington County had the state’s best track record for solving crimes in 2010 while Penobscot County had the lowest rate of crime-solving success and Cumberland County had the second-worst.
The state’s 2010 analysis of annual Uniform Crime Reporting statistics shows 52.2 percent of the 740 crimes committed in Washington County were resolved in 2010. That compares with 24.2 percent of 4,797 crimes in Penobscot County, 25.3 percent of 8,054 crimes in Cumberland County, 26.6 percent of 897 crimes in Knox County and 26.9 percent of 5,030 crimes in York County.
The report shows that the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department had the lowest case clearance percentage among non-university police agencies in 2010, solving 9.2 percent of 740 crimes investigated, while the Bangor and Brewer police departments had significantly higher rates.
In Cumberland County, the Portland Police Department had just a 15.1 percent clearance rate on 3,170 crimes in 2010.
For Uniform Crime Reporting purposes, a crime is “cleared” when a law enforcement agency identifies an alleged offender and there is enough evidence to file a charge and to take that offender into custody.
Other circumstances can lead to case clearance, including the death of an offender, a confession, extradition to another jurisdiction, victim refusal to pursue prosecution, and the decision by prosecutors not to proceed with legal action.
Statewide, law enforcement agencies cleared 29.2 percent of all crimes in 2010, lower than the 30.8 percent rate in 2009.
The state’s statistics show that Washington County’s clearance rate was driven by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, which had its own clearance rate of 66.3 percent for the 119 crimes it investigated in 2010. A close second was Eastport, which cleared six of 10 crimes investigated, or 60 percent, and Calais, which had a 57.3 case-closed percentage for the 241 crimes it investigated in 2010.
Of the 740 crimes investigated in Washington County in 2010, 389 were committed in rural areas and 351 in urban areas. Most were property crimes, including 404 thefts and 193 burglaries.
“This is the second year running we’ve topped the case clearance list among the state’s sheriff’s departments,” Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said Friday. “Which is very good, given that we don’t even have a detective. What we do have is good, dedicated people. We have the highest clearance rate happening with the lowest-paid staff.”
Smith attributes the department’s crime-solving success to quick response.
“When we have a major crime, we dedicate all of our resources in going after it,” he said. “The key to solving a crime is the speed at which you get at it. We try to get things solved as soon as possible.”
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department’s clearance record in 2010 showed resolution of 9.2 percent of 740 crimes investigated, 691 of which were property crimes. By comparison, the Bangor Police Department worked 1,791 cases in 2010 and had a clearance rate of 31.3 percent. The Brewer Police Department clearance rate was the highest in Penobscot County, with the department resolving 43.8 percent of the 322 crimes it investigated.
The campus police at three universities had lower clearance rates then the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department. Police at the University of Southern Maine, University of Maine in Orono and University of Maine at Farmington solved 4.9 percent, 5.1 percent and 5.9 percent of crimes respectively.
Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Friday he hadn’t seen the 9.2 percent clearance statistic and that he was surprised by the number.
“I’ve never known our number to be that low,” Ross said. “Our number usually falls somewhere between 19 and 29 [percent]. I can’t argue with what’s been reported, but it may be a matter of reporting accuracy.”
Ross said later in the day, after reviewing the report, that the numbers reflected were “inconsistent with what we know and what we do.”
“Either we’ve done a poor job of reporting, or a poor job of investigation,” he told the Bangor Daily News. ”I think we’ve done a poor job of reporting. What they have there is clearly what we reported, but it’s inconsistent with what we know and what we do. We’ll get it fixed.”
Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy cautioned against reading too much into the numbers given that different law enforcement agencies may have different definitions of “case clearance” that skew efforts to make meaningful, apples-to-apples comparisons.
“Remember, too, that there’s differences between closing a case in terms of investigation and closing a case in terms of prosecution,” Almy said Friday. “I think some police departments cook the books to keep their numbers up. But I can tell you that the [Penobscot County] Sheriff’s Department has good investigators, and the detectives in particular are good.”
Almy seemed surprised to learn that state crime statistics show Penobscot County was the most crime-prone of Maine’s 16 counties in 2010, with 31.87 crimes reported for every 1,000 residents. That compares with 28.66 crimes per 1,000 residents in Cumberland County. Sagadahoc County saw the least criminal activity in 2010, with 16.6 crimes per 1,000 residents.
The crime index rate for Maine in 2010 was 26.09 offenses per 1,000 people. Violent crimes occurred at a rate of 1.2 offenses per 1,000 residents, with property crimes occurring in 2010 at a rate of 24.89 per 1,000 residents.
The report shows that the total number of juveniles and adults arrested, summoned or cited by police was 54,312, a decrease of 3.5 percent from the 56,266 people recorded in 2009. Drug arrests increased 0.6 percent, with 5,345 adults and 567 juveniles charged with drug offenses.
The statistical analysis done for the report also was translated into a “crime clock” that shows there was a crime committed in Maine in 2010 every 15 minutes, 10 seconds. More specifically, violent crime was committed every five hours, 31 minutes, including a murder every 15 days and a rape every 23 hours. A property crime was committed in 2010 every 16 minutes.
Cumberland County retained it dubious distinction as Maine’s “murder capital” with eight homicides in 2010, up from seven in 2009. There were three murders in Penobscot County in 2010, down from four the year before. Waldo County, which had no homicides in 2009, had two in 2010. There were no murders in Hancock or Washington counties in either 2009 or 2010.
There were 24 murders committed statewide during 2010, which is a 7.7 percent decrease from the 26 murders reported in 2009. All but two of the 2010 homicides were cleared. Maine’s 10-year average for murders is 21 annually.
Cumberland County also saw gross sexual assault reports increase to 85 in 2010, up from 68 the year before. Rape also was up in Waldo County, from eight in 2009 to 15 in 2010. There were eight rapes reported in Washington County in 2010, up from seven the year before. Hancock County law enforcement handled six rapes in 2010, down from five in 2009. There were 19 rape investigations in Penobscot County in 2010, down from 21 the previous year.
The calendar year 2010 crime statistics are the most recent figures available. A complete analysis of Maine crime in 2011 is expected to be released this fall.