- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 22, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Crime dropped nearly 15 percent last year in Maine, the largest decrease in the four decades that the state has kept detailed records, even as the number of drug arrests grew, Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said Wednesday.

Every crime category tabulated by the state’s Uniform Crime Reporting division dropped in 2014 for an overall decline of 14.9 percent, one year after similar decreases were recorded in all categories except aggravated assault, Norris said.

The two-year drop was 25 percent, he said.

But drug arrests are increasing as the state deals with growing heroin problem.

“Maine continues to be one of the safest states in the union but all of that is tempered by the fact that drugs are driving the crime in Maine,” he said. “If we could stop the drug epidemic, the crime rate would decrease even more.”

The Uniform Crime Reporting Division tabulates crime data each year based on reported crimes from local, county and state law enforcement agencies. The state’s overall crime rate of 21 per 1,000 people is based on 27,987 crimes in 2014, far lower than the national average crime rate of 32 offenses per 1,000, based on data from the previous year, officials said.

The biggest drop in crime last year was for burglaries, at 22.4 percent. Other crimes that saw declines included aggravated assaults, motor vehicle thefts, homicides, domestic violence assault, rape and arson.

In the rural areas, patrolled by state police and sheriff’s deputies, crimes dropped in every category except robbery, officials said. In cities and towns, the only crime category to show an increase was rape, with six additional cases reported, officials said.

The reasons for the drop in crime likely involve a number of factors, including an improving economy and the state’s successful drug take-back program that has removed drugs from homes, eliminating a common target for burglars, he said.

But drug arrests, which are counted separately, have defied the overall trend, growing from 5,599 arrests in 2013 to 5,801 in 2014, Morris said. The number of drug overdose deaths also has grown.

Fueling the drug problem is out-of-state traffickers who see a thriving business in Maine.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency continues to see significant abuse of heroin, which is cheaper for drug users to obtain than prescription narcotics, Morris said. Heroin and narcotics abuse has reached across the entire state and across all demographics.

“Out-of-state gangs are very adept at entrepreneurship. They are smart. They are businesspeople. But the one thing that differentiates them from good honest businesspeople is that they are brutal,” he said.

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