AUGUSTA, Maine — While the state’s overall crime rate decreased last year, violent crimes against people in Maine increased, with drugs blamed as the “driving force” behind them, according to state law enforcement officials.
“Four of the five categories that saw increases last year were crimes against people — rape, robbery, aggravated assaults and homicide,” Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said Monday with the release of statewide crime data from 2015. “The growing drug abuse problem still affects all Maine law enforcement. As hopeful as the overall crime numbers are, drugs are still the driving force for most of Maine crime.”
But even with the increase, Maine’s violent crime rate, at one offense per every 1,000 people, is low compared to the national average of four crimes for 1,000 people, the release states.
The Uniform Crime Reporting Division of the Maine Department of Public Safety tabulates the crime numbers each year based on reported crimes from local, county and state law enforcement agencies, which also are sent to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
Maine law enforcement reported around 26,000 crimes during 2015 compared to 27,987 during 2014, a 7.1 percent decrease in the crime rate, with the number of reported domestic violence, simple assaults, burglaries, thefts and arsons all decreasing, the data shows.
It the fourth consecutive year that crimes reported have decreased in the state, Morris said, calling the numbers “encouraging.”
A total of 36,248 crimes were reported in 2011. Crime reports decreased 1.5 percent in 2013, 8.3 percent in 2013 and 13 percent in 2014.
“Although the overall crime rate has dropped, there is still a great deal in Maine and it is most connected to drug use,” Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Monday.
Mainers who are addicted to drugs are breaking the law to feed their addiction, McCausland said.
“The numbers say drugs are still driving most of Maine’s crime,” he said. “It’s heroin, cocaine, crack and [diverted] prescription drugs — those are the troublesome areas that continue to cause law enforcement issues.”
There were 5,943 drug arrests in 2015, compared to 5,801 in 2014 and 5,599 in 2013, the data shows.
Maine Drug Enforcement Agency personnel continue to see significant abuse of prescription drugs and heroin, as well as an increase in out-of-state drug dealers, Morris said.
Experts in sexual violence prevention and response also noted the 4.8 percent increase in reported rapes from 373 in 2014 to 390 in 2015, while pointing out that the actual number is likely considerably higher.
“Rape is the most underreported violent crime in the United States,” said Cara Courchesne, communications director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Reports to law enforcement are merely the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 14,000 Mainers experience this crime each year. Clearly, there’s a huge gap between the number of cases reported and the number of victimizations.”
Still, the increase in reported rapes might signal that public perceptions about the crime and increasing support for the victims are helping more victims to step forward.
“The more victims and survivors feel supported and are able to report, the more we can do to address sexual violence and hold offenders accountable,” Courchesne said.
According to the crime report released Monday, robberies also increased 2.3 percent from 304 in 2014 to 311 in 2015; aggravated assaults increased from 900 to 916 or 1.8 percent; and there were three more homicides in 2015, when 25 people died, compared to 2014.
Motor vehicle theft also increased in 2015, with 810 vehicles stolen compared to 796 the previous year.
Domestic violence assaults decreased by 3.2 percent, dropping from 5,067 incidents reported in 2014 to 4,907 in 2015. There also were decreases in simple assaults (3.2 percent), burglaries (6.7 percent), thefts (8.3 percent) and arsons (8.3 percent).
While the total number of arsons decreased, the amount of damage done jumped dramatically, the data shows.
The value of property damaged by arson fires increased 30 percent in 2015, with an estimated $1,568,000 in damage reported compared to just over $1 million reported in 2014.
The data also compared rural Maine to urban areas of the state. Both saw crime numbers drop overall, with a 3.4 percent decrease in rural areas and a 7.6 percent decrease in Maine cities. However, both areas saw increases in violent crimes.
Aggravated assaults in the rural areas increased 32.8 percent, from 201 incidents reported in 2014 to 267 in 2015.
Rapes reported in urban areas increased by 7.9 percent in 2015, with 302 reported in 2015, an increase of 22 over 2014, and robberies increased 7.5 percent, jumping up 20 from the 265 in 2014.
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.