BANGOR, Maine — Although drug addiction and related crimes are a growing problem across Maine, the state and its metropolitan areas still maintain some of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation, according to data collected by the FBI.
Bangor’s metropolitan area, which includes all of Penobscot County, recorded only 76.9 violent crimes — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault — per 100,000 people for 2014, the latest crime data available from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Portland and South Portland came in at 127.6 violent crimes per 100,000 and Lewiston-Auburn, which includes Androscoggin County, had a rate of 142.
“Bangor is a safe community,” Bangor police Chief Mark Hathaway said Sunday in an email. “We are very fortunate to have a supportive and engaged community and a skilled and dedicated group of police officers who work tirelessly at reducing crime and improving the quality of our remarkable city.”
The numbers for Maine are very low considering that only seven of the nearly 400 metropolitan areas listed by the FBI had violent crime rates below 100 per 100,000 people. Philadelphia had the highest violent crime rate of 861.4 for every 100,000 residents.
Bangor, Portland and 132 other municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies in Maine — along with others around the country — provide data each year for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
The statewide data, which include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle thefts and arson, are compiled by the Maine Department of Public Safety’s uniform crime reporting division.
Maine, with a combined violent and property crime rate of 127.8 per 100,000 people, is second from the top, according to the FBI data, with Vermont, at 99.3 crimes per 100,000 in population, taking top honors. The national average is 375.5 crimes per 100,000 residents.
The District of Columbia, with 1,244 crimes per 100,000 people, had the most crime, while Tennessee, with a rate of 608.4, had the most crime for any state.
“The state of Maine is traditionally in the top three,” Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Friday. “It’s a combination of things — the rural nature of the state, the makeup of the citizens who are good hard-working, blue collar folks, [and] we don’t have the same kind so criminal influences other states have.”
Sauschuck, however, predicted that with the record high number of drug overdoses from 2014, which continue to occur this year, and the seemingly endless stream of drug-related arrests, that “the 2015 numbers are going to be different than 2014. I think in 2015, we‘re really seeing a surge in violent crimes.”
“My concern is robberies,” Sauschuck said. “Substance abuse disorder affects crime. People who are addicted are not in their right frame of minds and in many instances do crazy things. What we’re seeing across the state is a surge in drug activity.”
In 2014, 208 people died of drug overdoses, 57 primarily attributable to heroin and 43 primarily attributable to fentanyl, and in the first six months of 2015, a total of 105 people had overdosed on drugs, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said in August.
Both the Bangor and Portland police chiefs meet weekly with their command staffs to discuss their community’s crime problems, and both have partnered with other agencies, such as the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and federal partners, to address their existing substance abuse problems.
“At the same time, we’re working with other partners on prevention and treatment,” Sauschuck said. “Treatment for the uninsured is a major component of this problem [and] that is really where the rubber meets the road.”
Another problem is that there are only 16 detox beds for all of southern Maine, Sauschuck said.
“I think we need to continue to work on prevention, treatment and enforcement,” Sauschuck said. “You have to do all three or you will fail.”
Bangor heard last week that a $188,000 planned grant has been awarded to establish a law enforcement assisted jail diversion program for people with substance abuse problems who also break the law. The program would allow law enforcement officers to divert people arrested for low-level drug-related offenses into community-based services, instead of sending them to jail.
Hathaway, the Bangor police chief, said the program is designed to get people off drugs and put them on the path to recovery. Portland started working on a similar diversion program in August.
“The challenge of drug addiction unfortunately is a serious issue in the Bangor region,” Hathaway said. “It has an impact on all of the communities in our area. We continue to address this with a combination of traditional enforcement coupled with developing partnerships with area public health agencies for the purpose of seeking treatment or diversion alternatives.”
Bangor Police Department also has increased its visible presence downtown and in neighborhoods and works cooperatively with business owners, civic leaders and neighborhood watch groups, Hathaway said.
“Consistent crime reduction requires a committed police department and an engaged community,” he said. “We are fortunate to have both. Bangor is and will remain a safe community if we continue to work together.”