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

Maine’s crime rate of 26.4 per 1,000 residents last year made it one of the five safest states, 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 domestic assaults probably indicates a greater willingness to report the crime to police, rather than an increase in abuse.

“We’ve also seen our numbers, in terms of calls we get to our hotline on a weekly and monthly basis, have gone up,” said Emily Gormley, 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.”

Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said, “As public awareness has increased and as victims have a clearer sense that there will be a helpful response, more people are reporting the violence.”

The number of domestic-violence crimes reported by law enforcement statewide 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 drug addiction, Morris said. “Crime in this state is still being driven by five letters: d-r-u-g-s,” Morris said.

A record 56 pharmacy robberies were reported last year, compared with 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. “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.”

Drug crimes extend beyond pharmacy robberies, Morris said. The state also experienced five drug homicides in 2012.

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

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

The need for drugs is driving certain crimes, but it is not strictly a crime problem, Morris said. “The people doing these pharmacy robberies are truly sick with addiction,” he said. “They’re willing to do anything to make themselves better.”

Morris said 165 drug-affected babies were born in Maine in 2005. That number was 779 last year and is on pace to exceed that in 2013. While they’re not crime statistics, he said, those numbers show the increasing problems for society caused by drug addiction.

Some crime categories showed improvement last 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.

Aggravated assaults, which typically involve weapons or serious injuries, decreased 4.7 percent, from 843 in 2011 to 803 in 2012.

The number of rapes reported dropped 5.9 percent, from 391 in 2011 to 368. Advocates for victims of sexual assault say that reduction could be the result of 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, spokeswoman for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in a written 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

Courchesne said they are obstacles that society should work to overcome. The state’s violent-crime rate remained at about one per 1,000 people, well below the national rate of four 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 various parts of the state, drawing officers from departments in those areas and augmenting them with state detectives.

The statewide crime figures are compiled by municipalities, sheriffs’ offices and the state, and supplied to the Uniform Crime Reporting program, a national program that collects 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 help policy makers, researchers and the public understand the nature of crime in their areas.

It also can influence the amount of federal grant money the state and communities receive, Morris said, though many of those grants have diminished over time. The statewide statistics released Wednesday do not include a breakdown by municipality or county.

The Portland Press Herald requested the Department of Public Safety’s information on crime statistics for each community, but department spokesman Steve McCausland said it would not be available for a few months.

The newspaper has requested the information under the Freedom of Access law.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

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