PORTLAND, Maine — Despite a devastating drug epidemic, Maine crime reported in certain federally standardized categories dropped 8.7 percent last year, for the fifth consecutive annual drop, officials said Wednesday.
The numbers were good news, but don’t take into account the toll of drugs in a state caught in an epidemic of opioids and overdoses, said Steve McCausland, of the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“Even though the numbers are down for five consecutive years, it doesn’t feel like it. Police agencies are as busy now as they ever have been. And drugs seem to have a connection with much of what law enforcement deals with, day in and day out,” McCausland said.
The crime statistics show arson increased 129.7 percent, largely due to a new reporting system, while rapes grew 2.7 percent and aggravated assaults grew 9.4 percent. But other categories were down, including robberies, burglaries, thefts, simple assaults, car thefts, homicides and domestic violence.
The Uniform Crime Statistics report doesn’t include drug crimes, McCausland said. But state figures indicate total drug arrests were down as well, by 9 percent, in 2016.
Although the crime numbers are down, drugs play a major role in most of these crimes and most police interactions, in addition to causing an alarming number of overdose deaths.
Maine is grappling with an epidemic of addiction and deaths associated with heroin, the painkiller fentanyl and prescription opioids. The state set a record in 2016 for total number of overdose deaths, with 376, compared with 272 the year before.
Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said it’s encouraging to see overall crime numbers drop but said drugs are “the driving force” behind most crime. He said people from out of state affiliated with gangs account for much of the drugs that police officers are seeing on the streets.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage echoed Morris’ views. “Maine continues to be one of the safest states in the country,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the flow of deadly drugs from out of state is still driving crime in Maine. Local and state police are putting their lives on the line for us every day to fight these crimes.”
The Uniform Crime Reporting statistics for Maine show 23,748 offenses were reported in 2016 compared to 26,000 during 2015, the state said.
The total drop over five years was 38.6 percent in the Uniform Crime Statistics categories, the state said. That includes drops of 7.1 percent in 2015, 13 percent in 2014, 8.3 percent in 2013 and 1.5 percent in 2012, in addition to the drop in 2016, the state said.
The drop in crime was similar in rural and urban areas. Crime in the rural areas showed a decrease of 9.8 percent and crimes reported in cities and towns dropped 8.3 percent, the report said.
Maine 2016 crime report http://bit.ly/2yxWBj3