A series of random attacks on Portland’s peninsula this week, following two aggravated assaults in the previous 10 days, appears to be a coincidental spike in violent crime and doesn’t necessarily mean the city is becoming less safe, city police say.

The department’s statistics show violent crime so far this year is up 4 percent from 2009 but down 8 percent from 2008.

“We do get spikes from time to time,” said Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck. Three people committing a series of unprovoked assaults is extremely unusual, he said, referring to incidents Monday night.

“For the victims, it was a traumatic event,” he said, but the public should take comfort in the fact that two men were arrested almost immediately in connection with the attacks. A third remains at large, though police say they are confident he will be charged.

Sauschuck said the Old Port — historically one of Portland’s hot spots for fights — was relatively quiet this year until a man was hospitalized Oct. 16 after being punched, falling, hitting his head and suffering a brain injury.

In another recent incident, a man told police that he was driving his camper on Cumberland Avenue when someone threw a brick at the windshield. He got out to confront a group of young men and was hit from behind, he said, and his wallet was taken. He was unable to give police a description of his attackers.

Statistics show that some crimes have increased while others have declined. Overall crime — property crime and violence — is down 2 percent so far this year compared with last year at this time.

The number of robberies has increased 8 percent from last year, with 103 reported in the city so far this year. The number of robberies — any time someone steals or tries to steal something from another person by force or threats of violence — is up 13 percent from 2008.

The increase in robberies is mirrored elsewhere in the state and appears to be tied to increased demand for money to buy drugs, say local and state law enforcement officials.

Aggravated assaults, in which a person is attacked with a weapon or suffers a serious injury, have declined 13 percent from last year, from 87 to 76. The number was 98 at this point in 2008.

Despite the numbers, a series of high-profile incidents can contribute to a sense of unease in the community.

“It’s really disturbing,” said Ben Chipman, who reported being chased by three men Tuesday night. “I’ve been a lifelong Maine resident and I’ve lived here in Portland 12 years and never had somebody chase me and try to assault me.”

Chipman, a candidate for the Legislature, said he was out tending campaign signs when three men approached him. Initially they were friendly, he said. Then one took a swing at him and he ran.

He said the experience will not keep him from walking in Portland late at night.

Police believe the same men were involved in three other unprovoked attacks, one of which was a robbery because they tried to steal a cell phone and a backpack.

Sauschuck said fighting fear depends on education, and senior lead police officers have been working to get information about local crime and safe habits out to community groups.

Often, victims of late-night assaults are intoxicated. People who are drunk may appear to be attractive victims if they cannot protect themselves, Sauschuck said, and they are more prone to engaging in verbal confrontations that can lead to violence.

Sometimes, people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“People need to be concerned with their environment,” he said. “What time of night it is, should I take a cab, should I ask someone to walk with me.”

 

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

[email protected]