AUGUSTA, Maine — Last year, crime in Maine decreased 9.1 percent, the largest drop since 1993, according to compiled data from the state’s uniform crime reporting system.
The drop was found in every crime category save for one, aggravated assault, which increased 17.4 percent. The increase in the aggravated assault rate was driven largely by increases in violence in the state’s urban areas. Meanwhile, the incidence of rape in rural areas was up 11.8 percent, but still down 2.4 percent statewide.
The largest decreases came in the categories of arson, which dropped from 226 incidents in 2012 to 140 in 2013; and robbery, which was decreased from 421 to 335 in the same time period. Juvenile arrests were down 13.4 percent, while adult arrests were down 1.4 percent.
The incidence of murder decreased for the second year in a row, down from 26 in 2012 to 25 in 2013. Rural crime was down 12.8 percent, while urban crime decreased 9.1 percent.
During a news conference Tuesday at the Augusta Police Department, Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said he was happy to be speaking with reporters — something not usually the case with law enforcement, who often confer with the media only in relation to some noteworthy crime.
“It’s wonderful to have good news for a change,” he said.
Gov. Paul LePage also spoke. He commended the law enforcement officers, advocates, prosecutors and judges who he said contributed to the decreased crime rate. However, he said, early signs indicate that 2014 is shaping up to be one of the worst years on record when it comes to drug crimes.
Drug agents and other law enforcement say they’re seeing an uptick in the number of out-of-state drug trafficking operations creeping into Maine. Earlier this month, the Office of the Attorney General released data showing that 176 Mainers had died from drug overdoses last year, making 2013 the third-deadliest year for drugs in the past 15 years. Most of those deaths were attributable to prescription opiates or heroin.
LePage said the solution is tougher, more concentrated law enforcement efforts. He repeated his recent criticism of Democrats for refusing to accept a bill he submitted during the final days of the recent legislative session that would have provided funding for more drug agents, prosecutors and judges.
“If we’re going to fill our prisons with somebody, let’s fill them with the people who are poisoning our kids,” he said. “I plead to the Democrats to come back and pass my bill.”
Lawmakers had attempted to revise the bill to make it more politically palatable, but LePage signaled he would veto anything but his original proposal and a bipartisan panel of legislators unanimously moved to kill the bill.
Democratic leaders in the Legislature have said they will not bring lawmakers back to Augusta until the next session begins in 2015. While LePage has the constitutional authority to call lawmakers back into session, he said Tuesday that it would be pointless. Lawmakers, if they chose, could simply recess immediately upon being called back to Augusta, he said.
Despite the governor’s focus on drug crimes, LePage is the only governor in New England who opted not to attend a regional summit in Massachusetts to address the growing problem of opiate addiction.
When asked by reporters why he wasn’t attending, LePage dismissed the summit out of hand, saying he was focused on getting work done in Maine.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m the only Republican in New England and I’ve not been heard once in four years, so rather than listening to chitchat, I’m here trying to get work done,” he said. “It’s one thing to sit around a table and chitchat, it’s another thing to try to get the work done.”
LePage, Morris and other law enforcement officials at the news conference said increased cooperation between the criminal justice system and advocates for victims of sexual and domestic violence is one reason for Maine’s lowering crime rate.
Cara Courchesne is the spokeswoman for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Part of the group’s work is outreach to law enforcement and policymakers. She said she welcomed the news of lowering crime rates, but with a caveat.
“These numbers are an important annual mark; however, it’s important to realize that the decrease is in the number of rapes and attempted rapes reported to law enforcement, not the number of actual rapes and attempted rapes perpetrated,” she said in a written statement. “Approximately 13,000 Mainers experience sexual violence each year, but in 2013, only 359 rapes and attempted rapes were reported. Clearly, that’s a huge gap.”
Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said the full 2013 crime data set, broken down by town and city, will be available sometime in the fall.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.