WESTBROOK — Aggravated assaults increased sixfold in the city over a three-year period, according to a statewide crime report released last week.

The number of aggravated assaults jumped from just four in 2017 to 24 in 2019, according to the 2019 Unified Crime Report. Meanwhile, aggravated assaults across Cumberland County decreased from 195 to 182, with Westbrook’s number of cases the third highest behind South Portland and Portland.

“I attribute that to the fact that we are seeing an increase in people bringing weapons to fights and not being afraid to use them.  These include firearms, knives and other blunt objects,” Westbrook Police Capt. Steve Goldberg said.

In 2019, Westbrook police reported 301 violent crimes and property crimes, including seven rapes, three robberies, 195 larcenies, 16 motor vehicle thefts and one arson.

Burglaries were up from 41 in 2017 to 55 in 2019, according to the report from the Uniform Crime Reporting Division of the Maine State Police. In contrast, burglaries in Cumberland County overall fell from 629 in 2017 to 415 in 2019.

“While not always the case, many burglaries are fueled by substance use,” Goldberg said. “While we continue to address substance use in the community, both through enforcement and both treatment and support through the Westbrook Recovery Liaison Program, substance use is something that is still prevalent in the community.”

Other crime rates in the city remained relatively stable from 2017-2019, according to the report.

The nationwide Unified Crime Reporting 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.

Larcenies in Westbrook fell from 344 cases in 2017 to 195 in 2019, a number that Goldberg said was surprising.

“We still have a lot of shoplifting calls from our retail establishments,” Goldberg said. “I suspect part of this decrease is from a small decrease in motor vehicle burglaries. We have been trying to educate the public on the importance of locking your car.  We may be seeing a positive effect from that.”

Westbrook’s total crime rate, according to the report, fell to 15.7 in 2019,  to just 0.7 above the county rate. In 2017, that number was 23.1. The crime rate is calculated per 1,000 people, meaning 15.7 out 1,000 Westbrook residents will be the victim of a crime.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, Goldberg said, because the report’s index doesn’t account for all crimes.

“We still have a high number of domestic violence incidents and OUI incidents, and neither of those are captured in index crime data,” Goldberg said.

Domestic violence in Westbrook has stabilized with 76 cases in 2017 and 75 in 2019, according to the police department’s figures, he said.

While not included in the state reports, domestic violence has increased statewide since 2017, according to statistics from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“What is important to remember is that these statistics do not even include things not always considered a crime, like stalking or when a partner exerts serious control over someone,” said Regina Rooney, the coalition’s communications and education director.

Calls to the group increased from 13,437 in 2017 to 20,020 in 2019, according to the coalition.

The Uniform Crime Report listed 122 OUI arrests in Westbrook in 2019, down from 145 in 2017, a decline Goldberg attributes in part to the department’s educational efforts around drunk driving.

“General education and awareness around the issue are helping, too,” he said. “People are more aware of the risks and consequences.  It is nice to see the numbers go down a bit, but they are still high.”

Goldberg said the department is in the process of tabulating its preliminary crime numbers for 2020.

In response to the report, Mayor Mike Foley reiterated his goal of expanding the 44-member department’s Patrol Division to support the city’s growing needs.

“This city has nearly the same amount of patrol officers as it had in the 1980s, and all the expansion over the years has been in specialty positions such as detectives, drug investigations, community support and administration,” Foley said. “It has been my goal all along to increase our patrol staff.”

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