The crime rate in Penobscot County was the highest in the state last year for the second year in a row, according to statistics released this week by the Maine Department of Public Safety.
The county saw 16.06 crimes for every 1,000 residents in 2020 and 16.14 in 2019. Law enforcement officials have linked it to Penobscot County being a hub for drug distribution in northern and Down East Maine.
Overall, the state’s crime rate has fallen more than 50 percent over the past decade. While Penobscot County’s rate has been consistently higher than the state’s, it has also fallen in that period, by almost 45 percent.
The county’s crime rate is unlikely to decline significantly this year as Penobscot County has been home to the highest share of Maine’s drug trafficking cases, a figure that has nearly doubled over the past two years, according to data from the state’s court system. Penobscot County is also home to a consistently overcrowded county jail.
Peter Arno, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s commander for northern Maine, said the worsening opioid crisis is the driving force for the crime statistics.
“I think that if you talk with most police chiefs, they will tell you that drugs, specifically opiates like heroin and fentanyl, are likely the major contributing factor to most crimes being committed within their jurisdictions,” Arno said. “As for Penobscot County, I believe that we have had an opiate problem longer than any other county other than Washington County.”
While Maine’s opioid epidemic has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, drug arrests fell 12 percent from 2019 to 2020. That was a large decrease compared with the previous year. Drug arrests fell just 1.6 percent between 2018 and 2019.
It was unclear Tuesday how much of that drop in arrests could be attributed to the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns last year and how much should be attributed to the implementation of treatment and diversion programs for those with substance use disorder.
In Bangor, property crimes and thefts are more common than violent crimes against people, said Sgt. Wade Betters, spokesperson for the Bangor police.
“Bangor is a very safe community,” Betters said. “We are fortunate to have a low violent crime rate. Property crime, to include theft, is however an issue we desire to curtail and one in which we remain focused.”
That is true for the entire state, but the numbers of those crimes reported in Penobscot County in 2020 are similar to the number reported in Cumberland County, which has about twice the number of residents.
There were 637 arrests for thefts reported last year in Penobscot County, compared with 653 in Cumberland County. Burglary arrests totaled 60 in Penobscot County and 59 in Cumberland County. Penobscot County recorded 138 vandalism arrests, compared with 167 in Cumberland County in 2020.