PORTLAND – The city’s police department missed its crime reduction goals for 2010, but Police Chief James Craig said it has made significant strides, and a new crime suppression unit will help it continue that trend.

Craig set a goal of reducing most violent and property crimes by 5 percent from 2009. As of last week, the number of crimes ranging from larceny to homicide was down 3 percent.

“We are probably going to be looking at another 5 percent reduction” goal in the coming year, Craig said.

“It gets harder every year,” he said. “With the deployment of our new unit, we should have no problem reaching a 5 percent target.”

The crime suppression unit will be deployed in the spring with a few members, though the number hasn’t been determined, Craig said. It will use crime analysis to target areas and times of day when crime appears to be increasing.

The effort will allow for more focused, proactive crime fighting strategies, he said. The unit will complement the work of the department’s senior lead officers and neighborhood prosecutor.

The department also will work more closely with the FBI and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to curtail gangs that are involved in violence, typically centered around the drug trade, Craig said.

Overall, crime in Maine’s largest city dropped 3 percent this year. Violent crimes, defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped just 1 percent. Property crimes — burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson — dropped 3 percent.

Some crimes, including homicide and rape, increased. The number of homicides went from four to five and the number of rapes went from 31 to 33.

Despite the percentage increases, the raw numbers are so small that the changes do not indicate trends, said Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

Police intensely investigate such serious crimes, he said, regardless of whether the numbers are up or down.

Almost without exception, the reported rapes were committed by people who knew their victims, Sauschuck said.

The homicides, while low in number, do represent a change from last year, he said. Police have seen drug-related street crime ending in homicide, which they find disconcerting.

Christina Feller, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said drugs have led to crime but police appear to be on top of it.

There have been thefts from homes and cars, and her house was burglarized last year. The woman who was arrested and convicted was an addict, Feller said. The nearby community policing center on Congress Street helps residents stay abreast of crime hot spots, she said.

Craig said the year-end numbers are a report card of sorts for the department, but the department allocates its resources based on weekly reviews of more detailed statistics, such as changes from week to week and addresses where crime occurs.

In late summer, statistics showed a spike in robberies near 182 Grant St. Because property crimes and violent crimes like robbery routinely relate to drug use, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency worked with Portland officers to identify addresses of increased drug activity.

A series of search warrants and arrests led to the arrest, at 182 Grant St., of a suspect in several of the robberies, and the crime numbers dropped, Sauschuck said.

When a surge in shoplifting — specifically alcohol — was identified at the Hannaford supermarket on Forest Avenue, police worked with the store, which invested in security caps for the liquor bottles.

Each cap must be removed by a store worker or the bottle will break when a person tries to open it. Sauschuck said the caps have cut down sharply on alcohol thefts.

Crime statistics are vital in focusing police efforts, Craig said.

“It allows you to stay abreast and evaluate and analyze crime trends and patterns. If you don’t pay attention to those things, you just kind of randomly address crimes as they happen, and you get random results,” he said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]