Violent crimes stand out in Maine. They are, by nature, sudden and shocking. They are rare and well-covered by the media, and coupled with a 24-7 news environment that brings violence from all across the globe to our front door, they elicit a reaction that mixes “These things just don’t happen here” with “What is this world coming to?”

So when two people are shot, one fatally, in an iconic part of Maine’s largest city, as happened late Monday night in Portland’s Old Port, it bears mentioning that we live in perhaps the safest state in a country experiencing one of the most prolonged downswings in crime in its history.

Americans, in fact, are as insulated from crime as they have ever been, and Mainers are even more insulated.

That doesn’t make this week’s shooting any less tragic or senseless, or the loss of the victim any less significant.

But it does make it an aberration, and one that shouldn’t create anxiety or dread.

Just how much of an aberration? Well, in 2006, Maine experienced 116 violent crimes — including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — per 100,000 residents, ranking it 50th among the 50 states. And violent crime has continued to fall since then; as of 2013, it was 14.5 percent below the 2004 level and 12.3 percent below the 2009 level.


That trend mirrors what is going on nationwide. After peaking in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the murder rate and overall crime rate has fallen dramatically.

The foggy lens of nostalgia has turned the late 1950s and early ’60s into an idyllic time in the United States. But here we are, in a much different age, full of what have been deemed corruptible influences, but with a comparable violent crime rate.

There were 9,110 murders recorded throughout the U.S. in 1960, for instance, a rate of 5.1 for every 100,000 residents. In 2012, there were 14,827 murders, a rate of just 4.7 per 100,000.

The rates for other violent crimes have increased since the 1960s, both because of increased occurrences and, in the case of sexual assault, improved reporting practices. Property crime, too, is more prevalent now than 55 years ago.

But in both cases, the rates have fallen dramatically since the 1980s, and they continue to fall each year. Violent crime rates both in the U.S. and Maine are half of what they were 40 years ago. New York City experienced 2,245 murders in 1990, but only 328 last year.

There are still troubling aspects to crime in Maine. Each year, a dozen or more residents die as a result of domestic violence. There are still too many unreported domestic violence and sexual assaults.

Drug use is rampant, accounting for the rise in property crime. Our jails and prisons, though underused compared to other parts of the country, still hold too many people, and far too many with mental illness.

But Maine is not a dangerous place. Violence here is not “getting worse,” or more arbitrary or senseless. Maine is, in fact, the safest it has ever been.

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