Portland Police Chief Frank Clark expects 2020 data will show a dramatic reduction in the rate and number of crimes committed in the city. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

PORTLAND — Police Chief Frank Clark expects that the 2020 rate of violent crimes and property crimes in the city will “show a significant decrease” over 2019, when the number of crimes increased.

The decrease is due in part to the pandemic, Clark said.

“Preliminary data indicates that burglaries are down over 49%, larcenies 32.4% and auto theft 24%,” he said. “Robbery, aggravated assault, and rape are also down between 15 and 24%, and we have had zero homicides this year.”

The past year was the first year without a homicide in the city in more than a decade, he said.

The drop in crime “is not overly surprising, given the anomalies in 2020,” he said.

“Our calls for service, since the start of the pandemic, have decreased somewhere in the area of 15% as well, given fewer people, vehicles, traffic, etc.,” Clark said. “So while I would certainly attribute part of this decline to the effects of the pandemic, I’d also note the continued vigilance and community efforts that our officers and staff have maintained and continue to provide.”

Although the 2020 numbers are not official yet, Clark said property crimes and violent crimes tracked by the Uniform Crime Reporting Division of the Maine State Police are likely “to show a significant decrease” over 2019.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Division released its 2019 report last week.

In 2019, property and violent crime in Maine’s largest city increased for the first time since 2010, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting program. The nationwide program includes more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies, including 132 in Maine, that voluntarily report crimes in two major categories: property crimes (burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson) and violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault). Other crimes, including drug offenses and vandalism, for example, are not included.

In 2019, Portland police reported 1,881 property or violent crimes, including three murders, 29 rapes, 43 robberies, 86 aggravated assaults, 181 burglaries, 1,460 larcenies, 74 motor vehicle thefts and five arsons. This marks an increase of slightly more than 50 crimes from 2018, when police reported two murders, 49 rapes, 49 robberies, 92 aggravated assaults, 169 burglaries, 1,370 larcenies, 87 motor vehicle thefts and 11 arsons.

While property crime and violent crime in Portland increased in 2019,  the number of arrests decreased. In 2019, Portland police made  2,547 arrests (2,476 adults and 61 juveniles), down 175 individuals from the 2018 total of 2,712 (2,647 adults and 65 juveniles). More than 81% who were arrested were white, just over 17% were Black and 1% Asian. Slightly under 3% of those arrested identified as Hispanic or Latino. There was not a demographic breakdown in the 2018 Maine Crimes Report.

Over the last decade, from 2010 to 2019, Portland has had an average of 2,385 property and violent crimes annually, ranging from a high of 3,170 in 2010 to a low of 1,829 in 2018.

While 2019 saw a small uptick in overall crime rate in the city from 28.3 crimes per 1,000 residents in 2019 versus 27.3 per 1,000 residents in 2018, the number of violent crimes fell, including a nearly 41% decrease in rapes, a 12% decrease in robberies and 6% decrease in aggravated assault.

The decrease in rapes in the city is in stark contrast to the trend statewide. Overall in 2019, rape cases rose close to 15%, going from 447 in 2018 to 514 in 2019.

Statewide, the number of violent crimes in 2019 dropped almost 4% and there were 1,355 fewer property crimes as well.

In Portland, motor vehicle theft fell 14% and arson by close to 55%. Burglaries and larceny cases, however, went up a combined 6%.

In total throughout the state, there were 18,464 property and violent crimes reported to police in 2019, a decrease of 1,309, or 6.6% from the 19,773 reported in 2018. This is the eighth straight year crime went down in Maine. As a whole, Maine’s crime rate of 13.74 crimes per 1,000 people in 2019, is below the 2018 nationwide average of 25.8 crimes per 1,000 people and the New England average of 16.45 crimes per 1,000 residents.

“The statistics continue to show that Maine is one of the safest places in the nation to live,” Maine State Police Colonel John Cote wrote in a Nov. 4 letter to Gov. Janet Mills. “The fact is related directly to the hard work and cooperation that exist within Maine’s law enforcement community and its many partners in public and private sectors.”

The Uniform Crime Reporting Program dates back to the 1930s and since 1972 Maine’s participation has been overseen by the State Police, but 2020 will be the last year Portland Police and others throughout the state and country participate in the program.

“Portland PD will be transitioning from the standard Unified Crime Reporting (UCR) platform to the broader National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in 2021.  Instead of looking at the narrow Part 1 crime categories, NIBRS will help us measure and track over 50 crime and arrest types, allowing us to better quantify the crime issues in the city and respond effectively,” Clark said.

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