Overall crime in Maine declined for the seventh straight year in 2018, although reported rapes remained at a historically high level, according to an annual report released Wednesday.
Rape reports spiked 17 percent in 2017, going from 383 to 448. That was the highest number in Maine since at least 1994, the earliest year for which data is available. The latest report showed no dropoff in reports in 2018. The total was 447, down just one from the previous year.
The state data follows the national trend of an uptick in rape reports and a decline in other types of crimes.
Officials and advocates said last year that increase may be attributed to an ongoing national conversation about sexual assault that has empowered more victims to come forward. But Wednesday, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault cautioned that many victims still do not report to law enforcement.
“The number of rapes represent significant trauma our fellow Mainers have endured,” coalition director Elizabeth Ward Saxl said. “And yet, according to the Muskie School’s Maine Crime Victimization Survey, we know that an estimated 14,000 Mainers will experience this crime each year, indicating that the vast majority of survivors are not reporting to law enforcement.
“We must continue to work to create systems that effectively respond to all victims who come forward before we can expect reports to law enforcement to truly reflect what’s happening in our communities.”
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck also emphasized that the number of reports does not reflect all sexual assaults, and he said police need to continue to work on being open and friendly to victims.
“The #MeToo movement last year was much more prevalent in day-to-day news than I think it’s been in 2019,” he said. “When it’s out there, and people feel empowered, they are more likely to come in and file reports.”
FEWER CRIMES OVERALL
Still, overall crime reports in Maine have decreased more than 56 percent in the last seven years. The data is collected from every law enforcement agency in the state and reported to the FBI each year.
“Maine has traditionally been one of the safest states in the country and members of law enforcement truly appreciate the strong partnerships we have in our communities that have led to a seventh straight year of declining crime rates,” Sauschuck said.
The numbers of simple assaults and homicides increased slightly in 2018, but most other categories decreased.
Reports of simple assaults increased from 9,527 in 2017 to 9,972 last year, nearly a 5 percent increase.
But aggravated assaults, which involve serious injury and usually a weapon, went down over that period by nearly 9 percent. There were 801 reported incidents in 2018 compared to 875 the previous year.
Domestic violence assaults also dropped by nearly 12 percent last year, marking the sixth straight year of a decrease in that category. There were 4,178 reports in 2017 and 3,699 reports in 2018. However, the state’s leading group that works with victims of domestic violence has not seen a corresponding drop in need.
“Domestic violence resource centers in Maine have not experienced any reduction in demand for service, and over 14,000 people reached out for help in 2018,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “The number of domestic violence assaults gives an incomplete picture because most victims do not reach out to the criminal justice system for intervention. Many times, the coercive, controlling behavior that characterizes domestic abuse does not involve behavior that meets the definition of a crime, though the result can be devastating and have lifelong impact.”
Homicides rose from 21 in 2017 to 23 last year. Nine of those deaths were related to domestic violence, the same number as the previous year.
The total number of adults summonsed or cited by police increased for the first time in a decade, although juvenile arrests continued to decrease. More than 37,800 adults were arrested last year, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The charges that prompted the most significant increases in arrests were murder, crimes related to stolen property and offenses against family and children.
The rate at which police agencies charged people in criminal cases or closed those cases for another reason – called the clearance rate – increased slightly to 38 percent for all crimes. But that rate varies widely across different types of offenses, ranging from 94 percent for murders to 27 percent for burglaries. The clearance rate for rapes increased from 37 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018.
The commissioner said the increase in arrests corresponds with an increase in the clearance rate, and arrests decreased in previous years. He pointed to behavioral and public health issues, saying offices are encountering them more often on the job.
“While crime is going down, I think the workload of our law enforcement officers is going up drastically,” Sauschuck said.
PRISON POPULATIONS UP
Even as crime reports decreased in the last seven years, the number of people incarcerated in state prisons increased, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.
The average daily population in Maine prisons in 2012 was 2,114. Last year, it was 2,444, a nearly 16 percent increase. Comparable data from jails was not available Wednesday afternoon.
So far in 2019, the average daily population in state prisons is trending down at 2,294.
Randall Liberty, commissioner of the state Department of Corrections, said several task forces are currently studying criminal justice reform, including options for bail and diversion programs.
“There’s no clear easy reason why populations go up or down, but there are many variables,” Liberty said.
Sauschuck said he was pleased to see crime reports go down again this year but wants to build on that progress.
“Each one of these stats is a human being,” Sauschuck said. “It’s a victim. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”