Crime statistics released by the state Wednesday show that Maine remains one of the safest states in the country, but drug addiction continues to be a serious threat, driving property and violent crimes.

The state’s crime rate of 26.4 per 1,000 residents makes it one of the five safest states in the country, said Public Safety Commissioner John Morris. But two crime categories — robberies and domestic violence — increased from 2011 to 2012, according to the state Uniform Crime Reporting program.

Morris and advocates for domestic violence victims said the increase in the number of domestic assaults reported probably does not suggest an increase in abuse but a greater willingness to report it.

“We’ve also seen our numbers, in terms of calls we get to our hotline on a weekly and monthly basis, have gone up as well,” said Emily Gormley, a spokeswoman for Caring Unlimited, the domestic violence support organization in York County. “It seems more people are reaching out for help and resources, and more people having an awareness of what those resources are and what’s available in their community.”

The number of domestic violence crimes reported by police and sheriff’s agencies throughout the state climbed from 5,353 in 2011 to 5,593 in 2012, an increase of 4.5 percent, according to state figures. Domestic violence reports increased 4.6 percent from 2010 to 2011.

The increase in robberies signals the state’s ongoing challenge with addiction, Morris said.

“Crime in this state is still being driven by five letters — d-r-u-g-s,” Morris said. There were a record 56 pharmacy robberies, compared to the 24 that occurred in 2011.

The overall number of robberies climbed 13.8 percent from 370 in 2011 to 421 in 2012.

The state has a relatively high number of pharmacy robberies, given its small population and rural nature. That prompted the FBI to offer this year to assist in pharmacy investigations in Maine. That could allow the U.S. Attorney’s Office to charge pharmacy robbers under federal law, which usually entails more serious punishment.

The state has a relatively high number of pharmacy robberies, given its small population and rural nature. That prompted the FBI to offer this year to assist in pharmacy investigations in Maine. That could allow the U.S. Attorney’s Office to charge pharmacy robbers under federal law, which usually entails more serious punishment.

“This is not something that is a national priority (for the FBI), however, we were approached by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for assistance in this, primarily because in Maine, it’s a disproportionate problem,” said Aaron Steps, supervisory agent for the FBI in Maine. “There are far more of these pharmacy robberies per capita than there are in neighboring states.”

The initiative allows the agency “to provide whatever resources and technical assistance the FBI can bring to the state and local authority.”

Drug crimes extend beyond pharmacy robberies, Morris said. There were also five drug-related homicidesin the state in 2012.

“Burglars continue to be an issue especially for the elderly in certain parts of the state,” Morris said. He said the elderly are targets “because there is the supposition there are drugs in medicine chests.”

Burglaries in the state dropped from 7,826 in 2011 to 7,429 in 2012, a decrease of 5.1 percent.

The need for drugs may be driving certain crimes but it is not strictly a police problem, Morris said.

Morris said there were 165 drug-affected babies born in 2005. That number jumped to 779 in 2012 and is on pace to exceed that in 2013. While not a crime statistic, he said those numbers show the increasing problems for society in general as a result of drug addiction.

Some crime categories showed improvement over the previous year.

The number of arsons dropped from 260 in 2011 to 226 in 2012 and the value of property damaged dropped from $6 million to $3.9 million over the same period.

Aggravated assault, which typically involves a weapon or serious injury, decreased 4.7 percent from 843 in 2011 to 803 in 2012.

The number of rapes reported dropped from 391 in 2011 to 368, a 5.9 percent reduction. However, advocates for victims of sexual assault say that reduction could be the corollary to the domestic violence statistic — fewer victims reporting the crime.

“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,” said Cara Courchesne, a spokeswoman for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in a news release. Surveys of Mainers have shown that the number of sexual assault victims in a given year is more likely about 13,000, the statement said, suggesting there are still significant obstacles to reporting the crime — obstacles that society should work to overcome, she said.

The state’s violent crime rate remains at about 1 per 1,000 people, compared to a national rate of 4 per 1,000 people.

Morris said the increase in drug-related crime and other societal problems suggests a steady decline in funding for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. Federal grants that have historically been used to fund a significant percentage of the agency’s budget have been reduced steadily over the years. The state has increased funding to offset some of the cuts. Morris said he hopes the Legislature will support the administration’s budget proposal, which he said would fully fund the MDEA. The agency operates as a task force in different parts of the state, drawing officers from area departments and augmenting them with state detectives.

Morris said the increase in drug-related crime and other societal problems suggests a steady decline in funding for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. Federal grants that have historically been used to fund a significant percentage of the agency’s budget have been reduced steadily over the years. The state has increased funding to offset some of the cuts. Morris said he hopes the Legislature will support the administration’s budget proposal, which he said would fully fund the MDEA. The agency operates as a task force in different parts of the state, drawing officers from area departments and augmenting them with state detectives.

The statewide crime figures are compiled by individual municipalities, sheriffs’ offices and the state, and supplied to the Uniform Crime Reporting program, a national program aimed at collecting data that is consistent from agency to agency. The FBI publishes descriptions of what crimes should be included in each category to encourage uniformity.

The information is designed to assist policymakers, researchers and the public understand the nature of crime in their area.

The statistics also can influence the amount of federal grants the state and individual communities receive, Morris said, though he noted many of those grants have diminished over time.

The statewide statistics provided Wednesday do not include a breakdown by municipality or county.

 

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