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Burglaries in Maine have decreased dramatically over the past several years, plummeting 50 percent from 2015 through 2019.

That sharp drop in breaking and entering has come as overall crime in Maine has been on the decline now for eight straight years, and as the number of burglaries nationally has declined by nearly 30 percent since 2015.

The drop in burglaries between 2015 and 2019 was more pronounced than it was for other types of property crimes, according to crime statistics released last week by the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Thefts declined 27 percent between 2015 and 2019, and motor vehicle thefts dropped 11 percent in that same five-year period. Despite the decline in thefts, the value of items stolen in Maine increased from 2018 to 2019, from $8.7 million to $9.8 million.

Meanwhile, violent crimes — including robberies, aggravated assaults, murders and rapes — were about 5 percent lower in 2019 than in 2015, and they edged up slightly between 2018 and 2019.

In Ellsworth, reported burglaries dropped by 60 percent over a similar time frame, from 2016 through 2020, said Chief Glenn Moshier of the Ellsworth Police Department.

Ellsworth has a relatively small sample size for burglaries, with only 33 such crimes reported in 2016, but saw that number decline to just nine in 2019. Reported burglaries increased by four from 2019 to 2020, from nine to 13.

Katy England, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the department had not developed any insights into why the number of reported burglaries in Maine has declined so sharply.

In Ellsworth, Moshier said, a number of factors are likely at play.

Increased addiction treatment programs, such as Project Hope, have helped people with substance use disorder, who sometimes resort to burglaries and thefts to support their habit, he said. Advances in technology that make it easier to identify someone who has committed a crime, such as identifying suspects through DNA evidence, and improvements in web-based home security systems also serve as deterrents, he said.

Drug take-back programs, through which people can turn in old and unwanted prescription drugs to police departments, also reduce the incentive for people with addictions to commit break-ins, he said.

And good police work that leads to convictions increases the likelihood of getting caught, Moshier said.

“We take back thousands and thousands of pounds of unused medication every year,” Moshier said of Maine police departments. “Advances in law enforcement technology certainly play a role as well.

Burglaries in Ellsworth tend to occur at summer camps on the city’s multiple lakes, and often don’t get reported until spring, when owners check on their properties and discover the break-ins, Moshier said. It is possible the number of reported burglaries for 2020 will rise, though likely not by much, if burglaries already committed have yet to be discovered and reported, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely suppressed criminal activity last spring, as people hunkered down to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, Moshier said. But that effect is believed to have tapered off as the pandemic has persisted.

Indeed, property crimes have declined nationally since the start of the pandemic, while violent crimes have been on the rise throughout much of the country.

The prolonged pandemic has also hurt people with substance use disorder and mental health challenges, he said, which could be a reason for why burglaries in Ellsworth rose slightly last year. Maine saw more people die from drug overdoses in the first half of 2020, as the pandemic started taking its toll, than in the last half of 2019.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....