Overall crime in Maine continues on a downward trend, but the number of violent crimes – homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults – all increased last year.

Crime statistics for 2015 released Monday by the Maine Department of Public Safety showed an overall drop of 7.1 percent, marking the fourth consecutive year crime has decreased. Crime in rural areas decreased by 3.4 percent, while urban areas saw a more dramatic decrease of 7.6 percent. The number of adults and juveniles charged with a crime dropped for the seventh straight year.

Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said that while the trend is encouraging, the state’s drug crisis is still driving too many violent crimes.

“Although the four straight years of declining crime numbers are encouraging, four of the five categories that saw increases last year were crimes against people – rape, robbery, aggravated assaults and homicide,” Morris said in a prepared statement. “The growing drug abuse problem still affects all Maine law enforcement. As hopeful as the overall crime numbers are, drugs are still the driving force for most of Maine crime.”

The Department of Public Safety tabulates crime numbers annually based on crimes reported by local, county and state law enforcement agencies. The 26,000 total crimes reported last year represent a crime rate of 20 offenses per 1,000 people in Maine. By comparison, the national crime rate was 30 offenses per 1,000 people in 2014.

Morris said the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency continues to see significant abuse of prescription drugs and heroin, as well as an increase in out-of-state drug dealers. Adult and juvenile drug arrests last year increased to 5,943 from 5,801 in 2014.

Maine officers investigated 25 homicides in 2015, which was three more than the year before but not a significantly higher number than any other year in the last decades.

Reported rapes increased 4.8 percent last year, with 373 cases, 17 more than in 2014. That reverses three years of decline.

Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said despite the increase, sexual assault remains the most underreported crime, with roughly 14,000 victims in Maine each year. She said the fact that there were more rape reports in 2015 might actually be a good sign because it might mean more victims are reporting.

“This may signal we’re moving in the right direction,” Courchesne said, adding that high-profile rape cases such as the one involving a Stanford University student last year help shift the debate. “We’ve seen a significant change in how people respond to sexual violence. The more victims and survivors feel supported and able to report, the more we can do to address sexual violence and hold offenders accountable.”

Aggravated assaults – which involve serious injury and a weapon – increased 1.8 percent, for a total of 916 cases, compared to 900 cases in 2014. Robberies increased by 2.3 percent, from 304 in 2014 to 311 last year. Auto thefts increased by 2 percent, to 810 in 2015.

Violent crime was up nationally, too, according to the FBI. In 2015, an estimated 1,197,704 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 3.9 percent from the 2014 total. There were 15,696 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in the U.S. in 2015, a nearly 11 percent increase from the year before.

Nationally, the violent crime rate was 372 such crimes per 100,000. By comparison, Maine saw a violent crime rate of 130 per 100,000, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which was also released Monday. Maine’s violent crime rate was the second-lowest in the country, behind Vermont, which saw a violent crime rate of 118 violent crimes per 100,000.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking Monday at an event in Little Rock, Arkansas, said the new data show that “we still have so much work to do,” according to The Associated Press. But she also noted that crime in many communities has remained stable or decreased.

“And it is important to remember that while crime did increase overall last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades,” she added.

For lesser crimes, including simple assaults, burglary, larceny-theft, arson and domestic violence, Maine saw decreases in 2015.

Simple assaults dropped from 10,044 incidents in 2014 to 9,722 in 2015. Burglaries were down nearly 7 percent, with 4,675 incidents reported. Larceny-theft cases decreased more than 8 percent for a total of 18,801 reported incidents in 2015.

Domestic violence assaults dropped more than 3 percent in 2015. There were 4,907 reported domestic violence assaults in 2015, down from 5,607 in 2014.

The number of arsons dropped more than 8 percent, from 99 in 2014 to 91 last year. However, the value of property damaged by arson fires increased 30 percent to nearly $1.6 million.

In rural areas patrolled by Maine State Police and county sheriffs’ departments, crime dropped in every category except aggravated assaults, car thefts and homicides. Aggravated assaults in those rural areas increased by nearly 33 percent, bring the total number of incidents reported to 267.

In urban areas, only rape and robbery increased. Rapes in those areas increased by 22 cases, or about 8 percent. Urban areas also saw a 7.5 percent increase in robberies.

The value of property stolen in 2015 was more than $20.3 million, down from the $21.2 million worth of stolen property reported in 2014. Police recovered nearly $5.7 million of that stolen property for a recovery rate of more than 24 percent.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GrahamGillian

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell