So is the cost of fighting crime, as Maine grapples with technology-savvy crooks and increased investigative costs, according to Public Safety Commissioner John Morris.
The Department of Public Safety released 2011 crime statistics on Tuesday, reporting a 5.4 percent increase in crime compared to 2010. That’s the biggest single-year jump since 1975.
But before we all rush out to install home-security systems and stock up on pepper spray, let’s consider what the crime rates mean.
While we may have experienced a sharp statistical jump in crime last year, the current crime rate in Maine and across the United States is much lower than it was in 1975.
That was the year Jimmy Hoffa went missing.
At the same time, Ted Bundy was raping and killing dozens of woman and John Wayne Gacy was in the midst of a 33-victim killing spree.
It was a scary time in the United States and — at least statistically speaking — we are safer now.
We’re not living the relatively crime-free times of the 1960s, but Maine’s overall crime rate is now about a quarter lower than it was in 1980 — the state’s most crime-ravaged year in the past half-century, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reports.
That’s not to say we are entirely safe.
The rate of burglaries in Maine is up for the third year in a row, with 8,079 burglaries reported in 2011. That’s a 10 percent increase over 2010.
In 2010, the burglary rate was one per 181 people in Maine. In 2011, with fewer people living here and more burglaries committed, the rate was one in 164.
The sharpest rise in crime was aggravated assault, an offense that usually involves a weapon and results in serious injury.
In 2010, 760 such cases — one per 1,748 Mainers —were reported. In 2011, there were 884 reports, one per 1,502 people.
The rise in simple assaults wasn’t far behind, with one assault per 126 Mainers in 2010 increasing to one per 109 last year.
It’s worth noting, although not terribly surprising, that overall crime rates climbed higher in our cities than in rural areas. Cities are home to more people, more businesses and more personal property, offering more opportunity for crime, which naturally affects the crime rate.
In our cities, burglaries were up 15.9 percent while in rural areas, burglaries climbed 1.1 percent. The robbery rate in our cities was up 1.3 percent but down 36.6 percent in rural areas. The rate of rape was up 8.7 percent in cities versus a 1.1 percent increase in rural areas.
The increased rate of aggravated assaults was higher in rural areas — 20.3 percent — compared to a 14.8 percent increase in our cities. The rate increase of car thefts was also higher in rural areas than in urban areas: 17 percent versus 7.2 percent. And, while the rate of arson doubled in rural areas, it was down 22.3 percent in our cities.
It’s disturbing that the rates have climbed at all, but we must recognize that Maine remains one of the safest states in the country.
The new data do offer some interesting numbers indicating an uptick in the rate of individuals committing multiple crimes.
More crimes were reported and more property was stolen in 2011 than in 2010, but adult arrests were down 3.3 percent and juvenile arrests were down 16.1 percent. At the same time, the statewide clearance rate in our courts was up to 31.9 percent from 29.2 percent in 2010.
The totality of these numbers indicate a trend toward multiple offenses by the same person, boosting findings that “addicts commit crimes to feed their habits” for illegal and prescription narcotics, according to Commissioner Morris, and may do so repeatedly to maintain their habits.
According to Corizon Maine, which administers health care programs in many of Maine’s jails, “approximately 90 percent of inmates coming into the Maine correctional system have a history of addiction” to narcotics and-or alcohol.
That addiction rate is more astonishing than any single crime statistic and, in classic cause and effect, leads to the obvious conclusion that if we can curtail drug and alcohol abuse, we can curtail crime.
We’re never going to eliminate crime, but if we’re going to wring our hands over the rising crime rate, we must attack addiction rates. Lowering addiction rates will naturally bring down crime.
Maine owes that to every potential victim living here.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (June 20)